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'We were not calm. We didn’t action those words. We got that bit wrong'
Robbie Henshaw believes Ireland’s quiet leaders need to step up to the plate this Saturday.

WHEN HE WAS a schoolboy and the teacher asked the class if they knew the answer to a question, Robbie Henshaw never put up his hand.

“There was shyness there,” he said.

This week the questions are a lot harder, the answers a necessity. Ireland are two games – and two defeats – into this tour. The threat of a whitewash is growing larger by the day. Saturday’s second test, you sense, will be the pivotal one of their trip.

For 70 minutes last Saturday, Ireland looked a competent team, able to score three tries on the All Blacks, creator of quite a few more chances. But for the 10-minute spell just before half-time they were bloody awful and that was the difference between winning and losing.

So he knows. His natural reticence has to give way; this is a week when he – and the other quiet members of the team, Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Beirne, has to stand up.

“Leadership takes many forms,” Henshaw said. “It can be grabbing someone for a one-to-one chat, sharing things with or passing on information.

“Personally I like it that way, when we are in a smaller group, rather than when we are among the wider group. And then on the pitch it is about putting action into words, being the leader; you can talk all you want but you need action on the pitch. That is when you get it right.”

He remembers four years ago. Australia, 2018. Ireland had lost the first test of a three match series then, too.

The tone was set by a rousing speech for their then defence coach, Andy Farrell.

Since then Farrell has won a promotion. He calls the shots now but one thing remains constant: he refuses to allow his players use tiredness as an excuse.

“It is a very similar message that we are sending out this week compared to then,” says Henshaw. “We obviously have to be more clinical but it is all to play for. It is really about going for it this week and everyone stepping up.”

Part of Ireland’s problem last weekend, Henshaw says, is that they pressed the panic button. After 29 minutes it was 7-5; after 39 it was 28-5. In one game-changing move, they went from an attacking platform to conceding an intercept try while losing their captain, Johnny Sexton, to injury.

“We  just needed to stay calm and not be too frantic,” says Henshaw. “Being honest with you, we got that wrong. We were not calm. We didn’t action those words and we had that conversation this week. This Saturday we need to be calmer and clinical in terms of getting out of our own half because they don’t play a lot in their own half.

robbie-henshaw-dejected-after-the-game Billy Stickland / INPHO Henshaw reacts at the end of the first test. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“They turn the screw, they turn you around, their kicking game is good and then they turn you over. They play the majority of their rugby inside our half, so it is going to be important this week because we can’t do what we did in Auckland. We had a hard meeting today.”

In it they discussed how to retain their composure; how they need to be smart rather than just brave. “We wanted to be a team that fired a shot,” said Henshaw. Now they know they also have to be a side that has to call for a ceasefire every now and then; that knows when to slow things down.

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It is about finding a balance. “We wanted to play our style because that style worked against these boys in November and in the Six Nations; when we get that right, it was great to watch. But it is about seeing what the situation is, what the position of the game is. Do we slow it down and pin them into a corner? It is all a decision making process.”

On Tuesday they watched the tape back, the wrong choices they made. There was the tap-and-go penalty from inside the All Blacks half that came to nothing; there was the failed exit from an Irish lineout – Beauden Barrett made them pay for that mistake; then there were clips of the things they got right. “Do these bits again,” their coach, Andy Farrell, pointed out.

“We know it is not going to be perfect. We know these guys are top-class players, some of the best in the world and they will have their good patches in the game. We just need to accept that. We do the best we can.”

So far under Farrell, their best has been at home: 15 wins and one loss from 16 home games; three wins and six defeats from their trips on the road.

“When you read stats like that you realise that every team playing at home is different in their mentality,” said Henshaw. “Still, I didn’t think being up against the All Blacks in Eden Park was an excuse for us. We were going to do a job and starting that first 20 minutes, it definitely felt good. We were humming.

“It is just momentum swings. It is a mental thing as well that we need to get right and be ready for, knowing that away games are a different kettle of fish. Touring too is different. This is a lot of guys’ first tour. I was here in 2017 and I knew what I had to be ready for.”

Now everyone knows. They have 72 hours to come up with the answers.

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