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All Blacks clash is a little different to Robbie Henshaw's first Soldier Field visit

The 23-year-old centre has been glad to have Jared Payne on his side this week.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago 

ROBBIE HENSHAW HAS been in Soldier Field before this week, although in very different circumstances.

The Ireland centre visited the Chicago Bears’ home stadium with his team-mates early yesterday morning, as Joe Schmidt shifted his side’s captain’s run to 9am so they could avoid the traffic that would soon clog up the entire city.

Robbie Henshaw Robbie Henshaw in Chicago. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Millions of people descended on Chicago to hail the Cubs, who carried out their victory parade after this week’s thrilling World Series win over the Cleveland Indians.

Henshaw will be back at Soldier Field today, as Ireland take on an All Blacks’ team that extended their run of consecutive victories to 18 just a fortnight ago [KO 8pm Irish time, eir Sport].

It’s a world away from Henshaw’s visit to Soldier Field to watch Tiesto at the Spring Awakening music festival in June 2014.

“It’s funny to be back here two years later, it’s nice,” says the typically understated Henshaw.

The centre piled into the incredible Chicago crowds yesterday after Ireland’s captain’s run, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the unique opportunity to get a sense of just how big American sports can be.

The sheer scale of the celebrations in the city yesterday had to be seen to be believed. Ireland’s meeting with the All Blacks has picked up some local attention, but it’s really a minor moment in a weekend of celebration that will continue to be wild for Cubs fans.

For Henshaw, today’s game marks cap number 23 and he feels like a senior player in this squad now, particularly with the likes of 21-year-olds Garry Ringrose and Joey Carbery in the match day 23.

That said, Henshaw is still only 23 himself and the level head of Jared Payne alongside him in midfield will be welcome. The fact that Payne is a Kiwi has made him an even more valuable tool this week.

The Ireland players pose for the team photograph All Black beaters? Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s great, he would have played with and against all the guys he’ll be playing against on Saturday and I was slagging him during the week, asking if he’d been getting texts from the other side,” says Henshaw.

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“It’s obviously Jared’s first time to face some of the players he played with and against when he was younger in Super Rugby. In terms of asking him of how they play, that’s where he’s vital for us and vital for our team.

“He’s grown up there, he knows how they play so we get all the info off him.”

Henshaw was around the last time Ireland played New Zealand in 2013, although he was 24th man and therefore suited up and headed for the stands after taking part in the warm-up.

He didn’t put his head into the changing room after that heartbreaker, instead heading directly to the after-match function to meet his parents.

“I knew exactly how hurt the lads would’ve been and how bad the changing room would have been, so I didn’t go in,” says the Leinster centre.

Henshaw has already passed many imposing challenges in his young career, but he knows that a first meeting with the All Blacks – who start with Ryan Crotty and George Moala in their midfield – will be on another scale to what has come before.

“We’ve just got to be physically prepared for a highly-physical challenge against a high-skill level team coming up against us,” says Henshaw.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt will have some clever set-piece strikes prepared. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We need to be squeaky clean in terms of our discipline and need to execute as best as we can with our strike plays.

“When you look at the All Blacks, it’s the way they execute the basics under pressure. It’s just unbelievable. From number one to 15, the way they execute with quick hands; a two-on-one, a three-on-two, a wide pass from the front-row to the back-field lads.

“That’s where a lot of people recognise that’s their bread and butter, just executing catch-pass. They’re running square and drawing defenders.

“In terms of their physicality, around ruck time their back row, their second row, their full pack around ruck time, is where we’re going to be up against it on Sunday.

“We need to be deadly accurate in terms of when we take the ball into contact. Our clean out has to be the best it has been.”

Easier said than done, but then Henshaw is more a man for doing than saying.

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Murray Kinsella

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