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'I would love to play with Bundee in the green shirt' - Leinster's Henshaw

The 23-year-old is targeting a return before the November Tests against the All Blacks.

THE OPPORTUNITY TO face New Zealand is just about the greatest motivation a rugby player can have as they battle back from injury.

Robbie Henshaw has that carrot dangling in front of him now. Joe Schmidt’s men face the Kiwis in Chicago on 5 November, before they clash again in Dublin two weeks later. Two chances at history.

Leinster Rugby Rapeseed Photography Henshaw with new Leinster teammates Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose. Source: SPORTSFILE

Having undergone knee surgery in June, remedying an injury sustained on Ireland’s tour of South Africa, Henshaw is somewhere between eight and 12 weeks away from a return to play.

A scan and consultation with his surgeon in a fortnight’s time will provide further clarity, but the lower end of that time frame would give Henshaw the chance to debut for Leinster and force his way back into the reckoning for the November Tests.

“I want to get a few games beforehand and get back before that, but that’s definitely a major goal,” says Henshaw. “I’ve never played the All Blacks, so it’s up there with a massive test and obviously a goal to try to fulfill, but we’ll see what happens.

It’s obviously on the horizon I suppose – it’s in my sights, but I need to get back playing in blue first.”

Henshaw is already squatting 90kg and doing some skipping, but hasn’t jogged since his surgery. He feels he could do so next week if allowed, although Leinster and Ireland’s medical teams will hold him back until his hamstring, glute and quad strength has been rebuilt.

When Henshaw returns to the pitch with Leinster, he is clear about where he plans to feature.

“12 or 13 is my priority,” says the 23-year-old, joking that he wouldn’t have the fitness required to return to fullback – where he first came through at senior level with Connacht, as well as starting there four times last season.

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Springboks Elton Jantjies Henshaw enjoyed playing 13 for Ireland in June. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Henshaw has primarily been used as a direct inside centre in his international career, although he moved to 13 in South Africa as himself and Luke Marshall formed a promising midfield partnership in Ireland’s historic 26-20 first Test victory.

“I suppose it was only the second or third time that I played at 13 in the Irish shirt,” says Henshaw. “It was actually nice to be able to get that little bit more space outside of Luke, who had a really good game.

“I did feel comfortable, and especially got some good ball in hand. We got to play around a bit as well, whereas in the second Test I suppose there was a lot more kicking. I only got two ball handles in the first half and it was pretty frustrating to play, but I suppose the scoreline was in our favour, which was working.”

It’s interesting to hear Henshaw speak about enjoying the ‘little bit more space,’ particularly as he excelled in the 13 shirt for Connacht in their Guinness Pro12 title-winning run-in.

His creative performance in the final victory over Leinster showed that there is more to the Athlone man than bosh merchantry.

“Definitely,” answers Henshaw when asked if he is keen to show that side of his game more often. “Obviously if I have to do it, I will batter it up, but it wouldn’t be my goal in the game.

“I can also be a playmaker from 12, so it’s not just battering it up, it depends on the game plan you have. Definitely, I am keen for more space, rather than being tunnelled into crashing it up in the narrow channels.”

Mick Kearney and Robbie Henshaw Henshaw watches a Leinster pre-season session. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

While a return to the November internationals this year is one of Henshaw’s major goals, the 2017 autumn Tests may prove to be a goal for a former teammate of his.

Bundee Aki has indicated that he has not made a decision on whether he will stay in Ireland beyond next summer but if he does agree to remain in the country, an Ireland call-up awaits.

Henshaw would be thrilled to link up with his friend in a green shirt again.

It was class playing with Bundee. He is such an exciting talent and he is an unbelievably skilled player. His quality across the board is unbelievable; his defence is class and his attacking skills – he’s not just a one-trick pony.

“He is able to deliver a 10-metre pass and he is able to just put people into space, and make players look better.

“Obviously, it’s a difficult decision for him to make, but personally I would love to play with him in the green shirt because of the bond I had with him over the last two years. I really got on with him off the pitch as well and he just benefited me a lot, but obviously it’s his own decision.”

Canterbury has revealed the new Leinster alternate jersey to be worn away from home throughout the 2016/17 season. The new Leinster alternate jersey is available to  pre-order from Canterbury.com, Life Style Sports and will be in store from August 26th.

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Murray Kinsella

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