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Aki and Henshaw ready to reforge partnership to take on England

Aki insists that all Ireland centres work on having a good relationship. But his long-standing partnership with Henshaw brings something different.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE NUDGE COMES for Bundee Aki right on cue.

He and Robbie Henshaw have been paired for press conference duty at Ireland’s training base in Abbottstown and it’s proving to be tougher going than when they form their partnership in midfield.

When Ireland meet England in Twickenham this Sunday they’ll forge the bond again – a bond that has worked so well with Connacht and with Ireland. So the natural question comes regarding how much they enjoy working in tandem.

‘Go on, you haven’t answered one for ages,’ says Henshaw.

Aki reluctantly obliges, leading another inquisitor to wonder if the Leinster man always bosses him around like that.

“Yeah, he does always. He thinks he’s good as Fifa as well.”

Video game rivalries as a welcome respite from camp life aside, Aki tries to move beyond the notion of some special bond between the 2016 Pro12 champion centres. The Connacht man’s durability has ensured that he is the most regular feature in a 12-13 axis that constantly needs to rotate injured personnel in and out.

“We’ve got a bit of a relationship going on. I think it’s just the relationship we have as a collective,” says Aki.

“All of us, as centres, have a good connection between us as a group. We’re always doing videos together, helping each other out as best we can and preparing each other as well as we can.

“Stuey (McCloskey) and Chris Farrell as well, when they’re on the pitch we do our best to prepare each other. Unfortunately, Ringer’s not here. He’s another class player.

It’s important we gel as a group when we’re in there. That’s the main message we got across from Andy Farrell; making sure we help each other out to be the best we can.”

With Henshaw withdrawn due to a failed HIA 45 minutes in to the win over Wales, Aki partnered Keith Earls for the final stages – his third centre partner through two games of this Championship. It was a massive shame for Henshaw to succumb to the injury, because he appeared to revel in new-found freedom brought by the 13 shirt and a license to offload.

“It was really frustrating to come off alright,” said Henshaw, “but again the doctors have a job to do on the sideline, they have the close-up cameras and if they see something, they have to be cautious and take the player’s safety into account.

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“I was enjoying myself and it was great to be back in the Aviva, it was a great atmosphere. It wasn’t ideal for me not to finish the game.”

While Ireland will take Henshaw’s medical clearance as a massive boost, confidence will swell all the more around England’s midfield as Manu Tuilagi has been pencilled in to return from a groin injury.

bundee-aki-and-robbie-henshaw Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Henry Slade also fit again, Eddie Jones could unleash the same midfield axis that caused Ireland so many problems in the opening match of the 2019 Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium.

However, perhaps crucially, Henshaw will join Aki in in midfield rather than patrolling from fullback.

“We have to make sure we bring our “A” game,” says Aki, “Henry and Manu are world-class players and they were World Cup runners up but we will have to concentrate on ourselves and go from there.

“Manu is a big man, a strong man. He plays a big part in the way they play, Owen Farrell and George Ford too…

“The last two games with them we’ve had a bit of a spanking from them so we need to focus on ourselves.”

Those spankings in February and August must still leave a mark.

“If you’re off your game they are going to punish you. We have to make sure we are on our game. We have to make sure we start well and play to the best of our ability.”

And if either centre falls short of their mark, the other will be there to nudge him along.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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