Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# The enforcer
Senior presence Henshaw ready to 'man up' and make the hits against Wales
The veteran 23-year-old is ready for a dog fight in Cardiff.

SPEAK SOFTLY, AND carry a big stick.

Off the field, Robbie Henshaw is still a quiet man from Athlone who would definitely rather not be backed into a corner of a Carton House corridor surrounded by reporters.

On it, he has become the ultimate battering-ram centre. There isn’t a defensive wall he isn’t willing to plough into for Ireland, be it as part of Joe Schmidt’s favourite 22 exit strategy or a move set with tries in mind.

RBS 6 Nations / YouTube

The decisive score against France last time out saw only two Irish players put their hands on the ball. On the back of a five-metre scrum, Conor Murray whipped a flat pass for Henshaw. Two tacklers, four metres made. So by the time the scrum-half picked the recycled ball up, he only had one more metre to navigate before the try-line.

“It’s good to be able to do both, be a ballplayer and be a direct carrier,” says the Test grade 12 who has also thrived at outside centre and fullback at provincial level.

“To help the team out I don’t mind to help out and doing that role at all. It is like the American (NFL) game in international rugby you don’t have that time and space on the ball so taking it up the narrow channels in the middle…if it is what’s needed, I can play that game I don’t mind doing it.”

His highlight reel may be dominated by breaks from deep in the green of Connacht, but the 23-year-old has fast become the physical enforcer of Ireland’s back-line. Even with Jared Payne as his midfield partner he was the heavier, harder hitter. With Garry Ringrose by his side more recently, he almost looks like a grizzled old veteran by comparison.

His fresh-faced Leinster team-mate has credited Henshaw with ‘bailing him out’ on a number of occasions during his maiden international season. Is it a case of holding the kid’s hand?

“I think he’s just being a bit modest. He’s class. I just try to talk to him on the pitch and give him that bit of confidence, when to go and in defence when to hit fellas.

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“I think that helps him out but I’m just trying to secure him on the inside so that he can get up high in the line and make big hits.”

“It’s a little bit different, obviously, when I’m the elder guy I feel that I step up a little bit more in terms of my voice and stuff. But Garry’s voice is brilliant on the pitch as well and he’s showed class in the last few weeks, he’s got better and better.

“Obviously Jared has been around so long, his experience is great and his voice is brilliant as well.”

Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The hits Henshaw mentions will need to be bigger than ever this Friday night. Scott Williams has been keeping Jamie Roberts benched to form a midfield partnership with Jonathan Davies. But it remains a robust pairing, and if the good doctor from Harlequins is called to make a late impact, he will be difficult for tired bodies to stop.

“Absolutely, just man up and hit him,” says Henshaw, taking that big metaphorical stick into view.

“(I’ve) played him a lot of times, he’s a big, prominent ball carrier and he’s good in defence. To have a player like him on the bench is obviously a plus for Wales and when he does come on he’ll be carrying a lot of ball. Towards the latter end of the game it’s going to be tough for us but we need to be nailed on.”

Be it the direct opponents, the penultimate weekend scenario or even the Millennium Stadium, Henshaw’s been there and done it all already. Time to pass his knowledge along. Everything from noise levels to Friday afternoon sleep patterns may well have a part to play in a game of fine margins.

Robbie Henshaw Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It can be a long day hanging around (before a 20.05 kick-off). Especially during the day (I try) not to think about the game, not to think too much, get built up for the game too early. It is a long day, but we need to manage it ourselves. We have those late European games as well with the provinces so we are quite familiar with it.”

Players are focused on processes, but at this stage of the Championship, results are all that matters. A St Patrick’s weekend finale against England in Dublin is only mouthwatering if there’s a title on the line.

“We know the pressure is on us now, it is massive, but hopefully we’ll thrive. Looking forward to going out there and hopefully coming into Paddy’s weekend being in with a shot at it.

“At the end of the day, we’re just going to do our best to get the win, which is our priority. If it comes down to a dog fight, which it more than likely will, it will probably be a one score game.”

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