'The higher the physicality, the better for me': Henshaw unfazed by last All Black clash

After starring in the Chicago victory, Robbie Henshaw did not last long when New Zealand came to Dublin.

Rory Keane reports from Syon House, London 

ROBBIE HENSHAW HAS experienced the beauty and the brutality of the All Blacks in equal measure this season.

Ireland’s  Robbie Henshaw scores a try Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Henshaw played a starring role in that unforgettable victory in Chicago last November. That image of the powerful centre carrying Sam Cane over the line as he scored that match-clinching try in the dying minutes will live long in the memory. The Leinster midfielder was incredible in that 40-29 triumph at Soldier Field. He carried and tackled himself to a standstill and was rewarded with the game-defining moment but there was one drawback; Henshaw was now a marked man.

Two weeks later, a wounded New Zealand side arrived in Dublin on a revenge mission. The gloves were off and Kieran Read and Co were not going to go quietly into the night.

The men in black brought a feral intensity from the kick-off and Henshaw would barely last 10 minutes of a brutal encounter.

Robbie Henshaw salutes the crowd while leaving the field with an injury Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

With Ireland on the attack, Henshaw took possession and pirouetted into the All Blacks defence before Cane came flying in with a high shot. It was mis-timed at best. The 23-year-old left the field on a stretcher. Cane got off with a warning. It was just one of many Kiwi onslaughts that night at the Aviva Stadium.

Sitting in his new Lions kit in the plush surroundings of Syon House in London, Henshaw was under no illusions that a brutal challenge awaits the Lions next month.

“In that first game (against New Zealand) we got that historic win but the second one didn’t go so well for me,” he recalled.

“We tried to prime ourselves for what was to come (in the second game) and the onslaught as they were hurting from the first game when we beat them in Chicago. It’s going to be similar down there and we need to try our best to get off to a great start and do the business on them. There’s a lot of work to be done before then.

“Mentally we need to be prepared, it’ll be a mental battle down there.”

Robbie Henshaw Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

A gruelling schedule looms on the horizon for Warren Gatland’s squad. The Lions will take on the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders and a fired-up Maori side before the first Test. There is also the small matter of a midweek game against the Chiefs four days before the opening clash with the All Blacks at Eden Park.

it promises to be a bruising schedule but Henshaw was relishing the “niggle’ that is sure to rear its hear throughout the 10-match series.

“Yeah hopefully not too much of it but it’s all part of it.

“On their side of the ball, it’s a great opportunity for those guys to play against a quality outfit like us. To have that bit of niggle in rugby is needed and it gets both teams going. Me personally, I do like a bit of niggle in the game and it makes it more exciting to be involved in. The higher the physicality, the better for me.”

This will be Henshaw’s first trip to New Zealand. The most unforgiving of rugby environments, many a Test player has returned with chilling tales. The Lions were whitewashed 3-0 on their last trip to New Zealand in 2005 while Ireland suffered a 60-0 drubbing in Hamilton back in 2012. Just two reminders of the daunting task facing Gatland’s squad. The likes of Henshaw, however, are untainted by history. A new generation with no fear.

I’ve never been to New Zealand no, so it’s a first for me and I’m really keen to see the country and the set-up.

“The culture there is pretty strong. I’ve played with Mils Muliaina and Bundee Aki, they’re a passionate group and it’s going to be unbelievable playing the club teams. It’s going to be complete passion from each outfit. It’s going to be really exciting.”

Henshaw has filled the midfield void left by Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll with distinction over the past few seasons. The pair had many skirmishes with the All Blacks through the years, not to mention six Lions tours between them.

“I have met both of them during the year for a catch-up over a coffee, to hear their experiences,” Henshaw recalled.

“In particular Brian as he has been a really good tourist, his experience is invaluable. I caught up with them, picked their brains a bit and just had a general chat.

“They said to come out of your shell, not to be too shy, to mingle and mix with everyone, get to know the lads and have good craic with them. They said enjoy it, do what you usually do and execute everything to the best you can.”

You can bank on Henshaw doing all of the above next month.

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