Henshaw shows he is among game's elite with outstanding Test series

The Leinster and Ireland centre did his best to drag the Lions back in front last night.

Henshaw makes a linebreak against the Boks.
Henshaw makes a linebreak against the Boks.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE MAN IN the number 13 shirt did all he could to drag the Lions back into the lead.

It was Robbie Henshaw’s scything break in the 74th minute that allowed Finn Russell to level the game at 16-16.

Having caught a pass from Russell up over his head, Henshaw stepped back to the inside of Morné Steyn and then surged through the tackle attempt of Malcolm Marx for a thrilling linebreak. He used his left hand to fend Siya Kolisi as he broke into the Springboks half before Damian de Allende and Marco van Staden hauled him down.

Suddenly forced to scramble, the Boks conceded a breakdown penalty and Lukhanyo Am could even have seen a yellow card for killing the ball as Conor Murray looked to clear it.

Even after Steyn kicked what proved to be the winning penalty, Henshaw made a big play for the Lions, haring after Russell’s excellent short restart and batting the ball back into Maro Itoje’s grasp to give them one last chance.

The Boks held on, winning a scrum penalty to seal their series success, but there’s no doubt that Henshaw added to his reputation with an excellent showing in the third Test in Cape Town.

The 28-year-old’s granddad, Billy, featured in a nice pre-match piece on Sky Sports in which family, friends, and former coaches wished the Lions players well. Henshaw certainly did his loved ones proud in the heat of the decider.

Henshaw’s late linebreak underlined the sense that the Lions needed to have the centre involved even more than was the case in this Test series. He was a clear standout for the Lions but he could have been even more impactful with further touches.

As always, Henshaw’s defence was superb over the last three weekends. A big choke tackle effort on de Allende off a restart was among his defensive highlights yesterday, allowing Tom Curry to win a breakdown turnover penalty.

robbie-henshaw-dejected-after-the-game Henshaw after last night's 19-16 defeat. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henshaw is brilliant under the high ball too and though he never quite got the big win under the Lions’ kicks that he came close to, he competed ferociously throughout and made one particularly superb catch moving downfield during the second Test.

There must have been huge frustration for Henshaw with the hamstring injury that limited his involvement in the build-up to the Test series, the Athlone man only making his return to action a week out from the opening clash with the Springboks. He would have loved to carry more momentum into the Tests but he showed few signs of rust.

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It wasn’t all perfect, of course, and Henshaw has spoken about losing the ball forward in a Willie le Roux tackle after his linebreak before half time in the first Test, but his involvements were generally of the highest class.

He started the opening two Tests at inside centre, with Elliot Daly and then Chris Harris outside him, before a move to the 13 shirt as his good friend Bundee Aki came into the midfield last night. The combination of Russell-Aki-Henshaw looked like the Lions’ best on this tour.

In some ways, Warren Gatland might have wished he had two Robbie Henshaws, for he was the best inside centre and outside centre in the Lions squad.

A strong impression in this Test series tops off a sensational season in which Henshaw has been one of the game’s elite players. He took off impressively all the way back in August 2020 as rugby resumed post-lockdown and carried his Leinster form into the green jersey with Ireland.

There was never any doubt he would be a starting Test Lion if available and Gatland’s patience with Henshaw’s hamstring injury highlighted how important he was to the tourists.

While the series ended in major disappointment for the Lions, Henshaw has enhanced his status as a world-class player.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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