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Dublin: 14°C Friday 23 April 2021

'I hadn't played fullback in a while... I don't think I was being targeted'

Robbie Henshaw is fit again after overcoming ‘one of the rarest dead legs in the world.’

ROBBIE HENSHAW IS finally back in training and close to a return to playing after the frustration of dealing with what he calls “one of the rarest dead legs in the world.”

Eyes have been rolled in recent times as Ireland and Leinster have described the injury that has kept the 25-year-old sidelined for the past eight weeks as a dead leg, but Henshaw himself insists that has “honestly” been the case.

The injury occurred in Ireland training the week after Henshaw had started against England at fullback – more on that below – when “one of the lads’ knees caught me straight on the sweet spot of my quad” while he was moving at top speed.

Launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Summer Camps 2019 Henshaw at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Summer camps yesterday. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

He iced and rested the quad, expecting to be back in the usual short timeframe associated with a dead leg but a fortnight passed and, still, he wasn’t able to run it off.

The frustration built until Henshaw decided to look abroad for specialist advice, travelling to London to see an expert in the hope they could provide clarity.

With blood vessels leaking and keeping the leg inflamed, Henshaw accepted that he was going to have to be patient.

“The guy in London said, ‘It is going to be longer than you think,’” explains Henshaw at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Summer Camps at St Mary’s National School.

“This ended up being one of the rarest dead legs in the world.

“There had only been three or four other ones that they’ve seen in the world, they didn’t give me names. One in AFL, one in ice hockey… three or four in sport, not just rugby.”

Happily, Henshaw’s injury has healed and after making his return to training this week, he hopes to be involved on match day for next weekend’s Pro14 clash with Glasgow Warriors at the RDS.

His most recent appearance was in an Ireland jersey bearing the number 15 after Joe Schmidt opted to give the Athlone man a surprise start at fullback for the Six Nations opener against England.

That decision was widely discussed in the aftermath of Ireland’s humbling defeat, which saw England’s kicking game exploit the Irish backfield.

“It was a tough game to play in,” says Henshaw when asked for his view of how it went for him. “I hadn’t played fullback in a while but it was a great challenge coming out against England.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw was at fullback against England. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Owen Farrell was pretty exceptional in that game in terms of finding space in behind. I had a lot of running to do in the first half particularly. I thought there was space in our backfield and I couldn’t cover all of it.

“I don’t think I was being targeted but I think they got access into the game through their early try, Jonny May’s try. That had a knock-on effect for the game.”

Henshaw does, of course, have some history at fullback, having initially burst through with Connacht at 15 and having made his Ireland debut in the position in 2013.

His most recent start at fullback before lining out there for Ireland this year had come with Connacht in 2016, Leinster never having started him in the position.

There was a short stint at fullback against Benetton in the Pro14 after an injury to Rob Kearney last November but Henshaw had had little recent experience there. 

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“The last game I played there for Ireland was my first game against USA at fullback,” he says. “It’s a long time ago and I’m sure with the way the game has developed, it’s different to how it was back then.

“People will say it was frustrating and, yeah, I was frustrated playing in that game but it was also great to be involved and be tested.”

Is the experiment over now?

“If I had to go there again, I would say ‘Yeah’. I wouldn’t mind playing 15 again,” says Henshaw.

“For me playing centre, I will probably be back in the centre with Leinster. Hopefully, I will focus on that for the moment but if there is a job that has to be done down the line then I would say ‘Yeah.’”

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw returned to Leinster training this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Henshaw had a “nervy” experience sitting alongside Johnny Sexton in the stand for Leinster’s narrow win over Ulster in the Champions Cup quarter-final last weekend.

He pays tribute to the northern province’s effort, as well as the “unbelievable individual skill” from Jack Conan to set up Adam Byrne’s try and the “character” shown by Ross Byrne to nail the winning penalty.

Henshaw watched the “exceptional” Toulouse beat Racing 92 the following day and hopes to force his way back into the Leinster team for the semi-final clash in Dublin on 21 April.

A strong end to the season with Leinster will ensure Henshaw can travel to the World Cup later this year with confidence, as Schmidt’s men look to recover from their disappointing Six Nations to compete for the trophy.

“You need to be able to deal with the day-to-day pressure,” said Henshaw of Ireland’s challenge. “Every time you take to the field, you’re the number one, and teams are going to put out their best performance against you.

“Funny one, from watching the All Blacks documentary on Amazon, they deal with it every day, that’s what they’ve learned to deal with.

“Once you’re at the top, it’s consistency in being perfect with your performances every time you take the field, it’s good learnings for Ireland, it’s something that’s good to be taking into the World Cup.

“For where we are and where we want to be, we still have work to do. To stay there, that’s the challenge, and that’s something we’ll need to look at doing going into the World Cup and beyond.”

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Murray Kinsella

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