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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

'The worst thing for a player is the stop-starting' - Regular rugby paying off for Henshaw

The Ireland centre heads into the Six Nations on the back of a good run of form with Leinster.

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw.
Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ROBBIE HENSHAW IS feeling good. This is the way he likes things. No niggles, no strains, a big game on the horizon. Bring it on. 

This time of the year hasn’t always run smoothly for him. Two years ago he came into the Six Nations cold, a 62 minute run-out against Wasps in January his sole bit of rugby in the three months leading up to the championship. His only contribution to Ireland’s campaign would be that infamous trial at full-back against England on the opening weekend. 

This time he has arrived into camp on the back of a strong run of form. He’s played five times for Leinster this season, going the full 80 on each occasion. Four of those games came across a busy six-week run which stretched from mid-December to late January. 

This is when Henshaw feels he is at his best. 

“If you’re able to string a run of games back-to-back and play 80 minutes each time, get those match minutes in and get the match minutes up, you get your confidence up,” he says.

“Probably the worst thing for a player is the stop-starting, being into games than missing a few through niggles, being in and out. It’s great to get a string of games. The body feels good and then your head feels good too.”

It can be easy to forget just how long Henshaw has been around. He’s still only 27, but has represented Ireland 47 times. To put that figure in some perspective, in the current Ireland squad only Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony have more Test caps to their name.

Generally speaking, when Henshaw is fit, he plays. Since he first properly established himself in the team back in 2014, he’s only been named on the Ireland bench three times.

Much of that is down to a constant desire to add new layers to his game. Coaches like Henshaw because he is strong and solid defensively, but he also offers an attacking threat. His numbers for the 2019/20 season, which took in the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Six Nations, show it was his best try-scoring campaign for Ireland (three).

“I think in previous seasons I’ve had that interrupted period where you play a game and then drop out for a few or have a longer term injury,” he continues. “That in one sense didn’t happen over the 2019/20 season, so that’s probably allowed me to just get more confidence in myself and to play rugby. I think that’s had a really good effect for me, personally.”

robbie-henshaw-scores-a-try-despite-antoine-dupont Robbie Henshaw being chased by Antoine Dupont as he ran in a superb try against France. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He used the enforced break last year to improve his threat with ball in hand. Think back to that wonderful solo try against France last October, where Henshaw sliced through a hole in the defence, cut out wide and turned on the burners.

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“Over the lockdown we trained very hard individually and (it was helpful) for me, just staying fit, keeping my fitness and always working on different aspects of the game, (like) for being able to have a strong kicking game and being able to use footwork in close contact.

“It’s been one thing that we always look to do, being sharp on your feet is essential for playing the modern game. We always push ourselves in that aspect.

“If you’re running into bodies rather than spaces, that’s where you can become dominated in the collision or in the contract. Being able to use footwork and being able to hit holes and hit spaces is essential in the 12 shirt and in the 13, because ultimately you want to be able to create quick ball for your team and create linebreaks to ask questions of the defence.” 

When it comes to the defence that lies in wait this weekend, the centre says Ireland are expecting an improved Wales team from the one Andy Farrell’s men beat by 23 points in the Autumn Nations Cup. That game came during a period of off-field chaos for the Welsh as Sam Warburton and Byron Hayward unexpectedly left their roles in the coaching set-up.

Defence coach Gethin Jenkins was parachuted in to try plug the holes. Now that the storm has calmed, he’s set to land the job on a permanent basis.

“Wales, when they play in the Principality they are definitely a different team,” Henshaw continues.

“They are so hard to beat there so we need to be prepared that they will come out of the blocks firing. They have a new defence coach in their system as well so we can expect to see some different pictures from their defence. 

“We’re really looking forward to it, we prepping ourselves for a physical encounter. Wales are always pretty physical at the breakdown, in the collision area, and they also have a good kicking game. So I think we just need to be across our own preparation and be ready for something different as well.

“I think the way they’re playing with Wayne Pivac, they’re definitely looking to move the ball more. They can play physical, gainline rugby and then they can play with dangermen out wide.

“That’s the way we’re looking at it, they’re looking to play more expansively as well so we need to be ready for that.” 

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Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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