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Henshaw relishes prospect of Ireland reunion with 'world class' Bundee Aki

The Leinster centre has described his former team-mate as a ‘world class’ player.

Could we see the pair back together in a green jersey this Autumn?
Could we see the pair back together in a green jersey this Autumn?
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ROBBIE HENSHAW IS relishing the prospect of renewing his midfield partnership with Bundee Aki in the green of Ireland, should the Kiwi native break into Joe Schmidt’s side this November.

Henshaw’s former Connacht team-mate becomes eligible to play international rugby for Ireland under the residency rules, and having been involved in the national camp last month could make his debut this Autumn.

The pair played a central role in Connacht’s memorable Pro12 title victory two seasons ago before Henshaw moved to Leinster and the 24-year-old says Aki would be a big addition to the group.

“It’s a bit down the road, but listen, it’s great to have him in there,” Henshaw said this week.

“I know he was always kind of hemming and hawing about what he was going to do, and he was unsure, but I think he’s really settled now.

“It’ll be great to have him there because he is a world class player and I think he’d add value to the group as well. I’m really looking forward to having him in and hopefully he gets a run out.”

Henshaw agrees with former All Black captain Richie McCaw that they missed a trick by letting him leave the system to join Connacht back in 2014: “Yeah, they probably did [make a mistake].

“I know there was a bit of stir back there and I think Richie McCaw mentioned that they let him go a bit easily. But yeah, I think comparing him to the other centres back there he’s well able to punch above his weight.

Rob Kearney and Robbie Henshaw with members of Tullow RFC Henshaw was speaking at the announcement of Bank of Ireland's sponsorship announcement with Leinster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“His voice on the pitch is really good, and his knowledge of the game, his vision.  He’s not just a straight line runner or a bash-it-up player, he’s well able to distribute and put guys into space.

“I suppose his off-loading game and his game of being able to pull something out of nothing, that’s where he’s most dangerous.”

All of that — a Henshaw-Aki axis in the Irish midfield — remains a distant possibility, but for now the Athlone native’s focus is getting back on the pitch after a 12-week injury layoff.

Henshaw is set to return to action next Friday night when Leinster host Edinburgh, as he not only marks his first game of the season after a Lions tour but his second year at the eastern province.

The centre’s tour was cut short through injury and although he had to watch the final Test from his family home, Henshaw says he learned a lot from the experience and has come out the other side a better player.

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“I thought it was class,” he reflects. “I loved playing with different players and being under a different management structure, and I suppose a different gameplan to how we usually play.

“It was a great learning curve for me, and out really made you as a person push yourself out there, and step up as a player and put yourself out there.

“It was definitely an enjoyable experience, and it was tough as well. The conditions we played in down there were tough and the opposition were pretty class as well.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw's Lions tour was cut short but he says he learnt a great deal. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think playing with people you don’t know, or people you meet for the first time and just gaining other knowledge from other players, how they view the game and how they play, that was probably the biggest thing I took from it.”

Looking ahead to his second season in the blue of Leinster, Henshaw wants believes this group can kick on again this year and rectify the mistakes that were made in two semi-final defeats last term.

“That was the disappointment coming out of last year and we want to go one better. We’ve said that openly,” he added.

“We weren’t happy with last year at all, and we know there was a few moments in those few semi-finals, particularly in France, the game was there for us a just a couple of moments let us down.

“I think it’s great learning for us. We’re a relatively young squad and there’s a lot of young guys who were used last year who will definitely benefit from that.

“I think the quality of our squad, I think we’re able to deal with all the heavyweight teams in Europe and I think we can go and win trophies in this club.

“There’s a lot of expectation within the club and we’re expected to perform every year, and our performance is merited on winning trophies, so that’s our goal for the year and as players it’s our responsibility.”

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