Henshaw: 'Sexto' is a big guy and doesn't need any extra protection from French traffic
Published 10/10/2015 | 02:30
As is quite often the case with the French, they have made no secret of their intention to target Johnny Sexton's channel tomorrow.
The Ireland out-half has been involved in some huge collisions with them in recent years, particularly with their 20 stone centre Mathieu Bastareaud, but he has never shirked his responsibilities.
Joe Schmidt was keen to point that out when asked if he was worried about France's physical threat through the middle but outside Sexton, Ireland have one of their best defenders in Robbie Henshaw.
The 22-year old may still be growing into his role as an international centre but there is no doubting his importance to the side.
Last week against Italy, he topped the tackle count with 13 (something that Schmidt highlighted afterwards) but such is his desire to improve, he wasn't happy with that impressive figure.
"In terms of defence, I didn't even know I had 13, I didn't count the tackle count. But yeah it's a good number to have up there," Henshaw said.
"But it needs to be upped. I know myself that it needs to be upped another level this week: 13 tackles, that won't do, I'll have to improve and make more than that this week and look at putting in a harder shift again.
"I know this is going to be a step up physically for us. Last week was a perfect primer for us. The Italians came out of the blocks with nothing to lose and shocked us with their physicality.
"We need to be ready for the French. Their pack is a big strong force of theirs, they'll have big strong runners coming around the corner at myself and Sexto. And there are big threats in the midfield to deal with as well."
What Henshaw lacks in experience, he makes up for in quality and going up against Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana will certainly test that.
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If Sexton plays well, Ireland generally do the same and win.
France have made it clear that they are going to do everything they can to stop him getting on the front foot.
Sexton is certain to have plenty of traffic coming at him all afternoon, which will mean that Henshaw will probably have to top last week's tackle count.
"We have to own up and make our tackles. Myself and Johnny know one other, we are able to make our own individual hits as well," Henshaw said.
"We won't be too threatened by anything. We need to front up and make our hits.
"Ultimately, we need to get off the line and build our line-speed, it needs to be a notch better than last week. We can certainly put them under more pressure and go and attack the French.
"Johnny is a big guy and he can make his own tackles. If there is a chance for me to get in there and make a hit I will, but I have to worry about things outside as well.
"I know Johnny is really comfortable making his own hits."
There has been a marked step up in intensity at Ireland's Celtic Manor base this week. The World Cup begins now, if you will.
Peter O'Mahony maintained that this is the biggest week of his life. Rob Kearney admitted that he can't enjoy weeks like this, yet for Henshaw, he is just trying to use the nervous tension to his advantage.
After a hamstring injury ruled him out of Ireland's first two pool games, the Athlone man made a welcome return last week but there was a moment of panic when he initially pulled up in training.
"It was just kind of a niggly kind of one. I've never had a hamstring injury before so it was kind of shock to the system more so but yeah, once I got back on my feet and got running, doing straight line running, I got a bit confident and I knew I'd be back within a couple of weeks.
"I was more excited than anything," he said of his comeback. "I was pumped for it. I was itching to get out there and get my World Cup in action and get the ball rolling.
"Not much nerves were there. A little, but more excitement than anything.
"The nerves are there coming into the stadium and that shiver you get when you get off the bus and the cameras. . . every player loves that sense getting off the bus and seeing the fans there cheering you in."
The same nerves will come into play tomorrow but Henshaw is more than capable of coping with them. It's all part of the learning process.
"I've definitely got more to offer. A few little things to tweak in attack as well, to be sharper in my distribution and my passing and a few hits at the start (against Italy) I didn't fire into that I felt I could have done better in," he said.
"(Freddie) Michalak is liable to do anything, he's that type of a player who can pull something out of nothing, using his little dinks and his grubbers to pull a try out of nowhere.
"I think we just need to be connected. Myself, Johnny and (Keith) Earlsy. We just need to talk up in defence and get off the line and put them under pressure and hopefully things won't go his way.
"We certainly are going to go and attack France this week and that's what our plan is."
France are also adamant that they are going to go after Ireland. Something has to give but it certainly won't be Henshaw.