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'I’m definitely in a better position going into this tour' - Henshaw

The Leinster centre is backing team-mate Andrew Porter to bounce back from his Lions disappointment.

Henshaw arriving in Jersey with the Lions yesterday.
Henshaw arriving in Jersey with the Lions yesterday.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

ROBBIE HENSHAW HAS backed his Leinster and Ireland team-mate Andrew Porter to return stronger than ever from the disappointment of missing out on the forthcoming Lions tour to South Africa.

One of eight Irish internationals to make the initial squad of 37 selected by Warren Gatland for the series, Porter was subsequently ruled out due to a toe injury he sustained in Leinster’s defeat to Glasgow in the Rainbow Cup on June 4. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, Henshaw confirmed that the tighthead prop is already beginning his road to full recovery.

“I sent him a text straight away. I’m sure his phone was blowing up. I met him on Monday morning and in fairness to him, he’s a pretty resilient guy. He was in the gym at seven o’clock, lifting weights. Even after getting that sort of news,” Henshaw explained.

“He’s an incredible athlete. I just feel so sorry for him because he never gets injured. He’s a pretty bulletproof person and a bulletproof player. He doesn’t get these types of injuries. It’s just so unfortunate the way it came about and just so unlucky. They’re just kind of freak injuries. He’s upbeat and he’s staying really positive, which is great. I’m sure he has another tour or two in him.”

Porter’s news brings back memories of Henshaw’s own Lions frustration in New Zealand four years ago. The Athlone man was heavily involved in midweek games and was vying for a match day spot for the second Test against the All Blacks when a torn pectoral muscle – picked up in a 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes – ultimately cut his tour short.

We’ll never know if Henshaw would have featured in the remaining two Test games, but he did absorb plenty of lessons from the tour that he hopes will stand to him this time around.

“Anything could have happened. There was guys that did get in for the last Test and a few got on the bench for the second Test. You had to be optimistic that anything could happen in rugby. Going into this one, I think the last one has been a great learning for me.

“I’ve picked up a lot along the way and got a lot of experience since that tour. I’m definitely in a better position going into this tour.”

Henshaw was on hand last Friday to help unveil the nominees for the 2021 Zurich Men’s Players’ Player of the Year. Joining the centre on the shortlist for this award are Connacht’s Tom Daly as well as his Lions colleagues Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson.

robbie-henshaw Henshaw has been nominated for the 2021 Zurich Men’s Players’ Player of the Year Award. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Because of the challenges posed by Covid-19, this year’s Tour is set to be drastically different from all the ones that have gone before it. It won’t be all business in South Africa, however, and there will be opportunities for the squad to operate outside of their controlled environments.

“Even though we’re away for about nine weeks from our families and stuff, we’ll be in these movable bubbles between Johannesburg and Cape Town. I think there’ll be plenty of things to do in terms of activities within the hotel. They’ll have these movable things where we’ll potentially be allowed to go out and do a bit outside.

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“Obviously golf and maybe a bit of surfing and fishing. It will all be good and I think that’s a big thing the committee are looking at doing. To make sure we’re not going mad just from being locked up in the hotels. It will be really good, it will be a special tour and it will be one to remember as well.”

Whereas fellow tourist Beirne had to wait until he was 24 for his first start in the professional game, Henshaw reached this milestone as a teenager with Connacht in the 2012/13 season.

Before then, he had already been given a taste of senior rugby. While still a secondary school student at nearby Marist College, the former Westmeath GAA prodigy made a single appearance for the Buccaneers first-team in the All-Ireland League.

“I played half a game when I was in school against Dungannon or one of the northern teams. I remember Luke Marshall was playing in the game. I wasn’t supposed to be playing. I think there was a rule there where schoolboys weren’t allowed play senior club, but some of the lads bent the rules anyway! I got in and got my half of senior club rugby,” Henshaw recalled.

“Which was great, because my uncle David was actually coaching the forwards for Buccaneers at the time and they had a South African coach, Hendrik Marnitz, who coached me underage as well. He was a great coach, he did a bit with the Blue Bulls as well and Buccaneers got him up.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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