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'He cleans up other people's mistakes': Sexton thrilled to have Henshaw back to battle Scarlets

The captain is hoping the ‘hard truths’ learned in two semi-final losses last year can be put to good use tomorrow.

‘THE MINUTE HE got injured it was head down, straight away. He hardly missed a day.’

Robbie Henshaw leaves the field due to injury Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

From the second Robbie Henshaw hit the grass and scored a try for Ireland in the Six Nations win over Italy, it was clear he had a serious problem.

As he walked off the field in a sling and the early medical appraisals came through, you had to feel for him with Ireland’s training camp in his hometown of Athlone imminent and fear for his chances of being fit to play any part in this season.

10 weeks on, Henshaw will be back on the Aviva Stadium’s turf for tomorrow’s Champions Cup semi-final against Scarlets. The rapid return, according to both head coach Leo Cullen and tomorrow’s captain Johnny Sexton, is down to the centre’s diligent approach to rehab as well as a touch of good fortune that the injury was not as bad as it appeared.

“Robbie, what an incredible achievement and effort to get right for this game,” said Sexton, who by dint of proximity stands to benefit more than most from Henshaw’s presence, said after today’s captain’s run.

Robbie Henshaw Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“He was a bit lucky in that the way he hurt his shoulder it didn’t require as big a surgery as he thought. But the patience he’s shown every single day to get it right shows what the club means to him. I can’t wait to get out and play with him tomorrow.

“He brings a lot to the table, some stuff that you guys mightn’t see. He cleans up so much…”

Conscious of the radio and TV cameras, Sexton stops himself from cursing and instead finishes his sentence with a PG filter:

“…other people’s mistakes. I’m looking forward to being out there with him tomorrow.”

Once Henshaw presented fit and well this week after running in the warm-up ahead of last weekend’s loss to Benetton, including the Ireland centre was an easy choice for Cullen. Particularly given the domino effect from Luke McGrath’s injury would require Isa Nacewa on the wing.

“It’s good to have his presence back in the midfield,” said the head coach.

“The minute he got injured it was head down straight away. He hardly missed a day. The physios and rehab coaches have worked hard to get him back in good shape.”

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While Henshaw was inked into the team, Cullen had to hedge his bets slightly with Nacewa as the veteran Aucklander and his family were suffering with a bug early this week.

As a result, Sexton was tasked with leading the team as captain. Having used 53 players over the course of the season, a tweak in official leadership brings no cause for Cullen to panic.

“The way the week unfolded,” the former lock said to explain his choice of captain, “Isa was sick at the start of the week.  We’ve used about nine captains this year across all the games so far. Johnny and Isa are the two main leaders, but Isa missed the start of the week.

“He’s come back on the wing. It’s important we have that ability to share the load. From our end, we treat this as a one-off game and we feel it’s best for the group this week.”

Johnny Sexton Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

From Sexton’s point of view, the metaphorical armband simply saves Nacewa clocking up extra metres in a bid to chat with referee Romaine Poite:

“On the pitch it will just be (me being) close to Poite for some of the decisions. It’s easier than Isa running in all the time, having to explain and then get back out to his wing.”

Sexton will lead a team intent on righting a pair of results that dogged them over much of the last year; the home Pro12 semi-final loss to 14 Scarlets last May and the Champions Cup defeat to Clermont in Lyon four weeks earlier.

Achieve victory tomorrow and Leinster will be back in the European Cup final and therefore worthy of comparison with the three other vintage groups Sexton has played a part in.

The first Leinster team I was involved in we got to this stage a lot and let ourselves down on the big days. Then we had a period of success, and last year we were sort of in that first Leinster group. We’ll find out tomorrow if we can take that next step.

“I think we can. We’ve got the ability, it’s just about performing on the big day now.”

“(A final) is everything that we’ve built towards. From the start of the season what we’ve talked about.

“We reviewed those games, even in the summer, with the coaches and we learned a lot of lessons in them.

“We learned a lot of hard truths.

“Maybe if we succeed this year we’ll look back at those two games and think that was the moment that we won something this year.”

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Sean Farrell

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