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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Robbie Henshaw to embrace physicality on Lions tour of New Zealand

Robbie Henshaw enjoyed success over New Zealand with Ireland
Robbie Henshaw enjoyed success over New Zealand with Ireland

Robbie Henshaw may be a marked man when the British and Irish Lions face New Zealand this summer but the Ireland centre has warned hard hits will only make him play better.

Henshaw scored the winning try in Ireland's historic victory over the All Blacks in November and he is now hoping for a repeat, with the Lions beginning their three-Test series in June.

New Zealand were quick to avenge that bruising loss in Chicago, beating Ireland in Dublin after a ferocious contest that included Henshaw being carried off on a stretcher.

Henshaw sustained a head injury following Sam Cane's high, shoulder-led tackle that many felt warranted a yellow card at the very least.

The last time the Lions toured New Zealand, in 2005, their star player and captain Brian O'Driscoll survived only 41 seconds of the opening Test, forced off and ruled out of the rest of the series after a spear-tackle by Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga.

Henshaw says he is ready for the physical onslaught, which is likely to start in the Lions' six warm-up matches before the Test series even begins.

"I think it's all part of it," Henshaw said.

"On their side it's a great opportunity for those guys to play against a quality outfit like us. To have that bit of niggle in rugby, that is needed and it gets both teams going.

"Me personally I do like that niggle in the game, it makes it more exciting and more exciting to be involved in. The higher the physicality the better for me."

Henshaw is undertaking his first Lions series and the Leinster back said he has met both O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, both former players of the Irish province, for advice.

"I've met both during the year for a catch-up about their experiences, in particular Brian has been really good, his experience alone is invaluable," Henshaw said.

"I caught up with them and picked their brains a bit. They said just coming out of your shell was one of the main things mentioned - not to be too shy, to mingle with everyone and get to know the lads and have good crack with them as well."

Henshaw is one of 11 Irish picks in Gatland's 41-man squad and their winning experience against New Zealand last year could prove invaluable.

Ireland's 40-29 victory was their first in 29 attempts against the All Blacks and ended their opponents' remarkable run of 18 straight wins.

"The first game I played them we got that historic win, so it's one out of two, the second one didn't go so well," Henshaw said.

"It's going to be similar down there. We know we have to get off to a good start and hopefully do the business. Mentally we need to be prepared, it''s going to be a mental battle out there.

"Definitely our vocal leaders, our more established guys who have been on tour before - Johnny Sexton and Rory Best - will have an input I presume.

"They'll stand up and speak about that a little bit, how we approached it and how we beat the All Blacks."

The Lions will face the Haka in warm-up matches, as well as Tests, for the first time in New Zealand after the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs all jumped at the chance to perform the pre-match ritual this summer.

Henshaw thinks greater familiarity with the Haka can only benefit the Lions.

"I think it will help us get ready for what's to come," Henshaw said.

"When you run out on the pitch we're ready to go straight into the game for kick-off but then you have to stand and wait for it to happen so it can be a couple of minutes not moving around and you cool down a bit.

"We'll be exposed to that and used to it come the first Test."

Press Association

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