Saturday 10 December 2016

Robbie Henshaw ready to go to a 'dark place' to beat Springboks on home soil

Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Henshaw hasn’t closed the door on one day returning to Connacht. Picture Credit Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw hasn’t closed the door on one day returning to Connacht. Picture Credit Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It's been an interesting few weeks in the life of Robbie Henshaw, who is set for a summer of change as he bids farewell to Connacht and says hello to Leinster.

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The Athlone man signed off at his home province in style as his old team won the Pro12 at the expense of his new team in an epic final two weeks ago.

For all that he lapped up the All Ireland-esque celebrations that greeted the team's return home, he's at peace with his decision to move east and seek a new adventure. Yet he hasn't closed the door on one day returning to the Sportsground.

That's a matter for another season; indeed donning the blue jersey is the furthest thing from his mind right now because he is preoccupied with Ireland's bid to beat the Springboks at Newlands tomorrow.

When he looks around the dressing-room he will not see the same familiar leaders that have been there throughout his short but influential international career.

In the absence of key leaders like Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien, Joe Schmidt will be looking for new generals, and Henshaw fits the bill.

He is in form and, despite accruing the most minutes of any Ireland player this season according to Schmidt, ready for the challenge.

"I was pretty happy with the final and the semi; two really tough games," he said of his form.

"I'm happy enough coming down here but I know it's going to be another step-up here in terms of physicality, intensity and pace-wise.

"I look on it as a positive in a way that I have to be ready to go into a dark place at the weekend.

"They're going to drag us down to that and if we expect to get out of there with a result, we have to put our bodies on the line and we have to go to that dark place.

"Up front is going to be massive. Our pack is going to need to be mentally ready for the challenge to come.

"I got my first start at home against South Africa in the November internationals in 2014 and I found the physicality of it was something I'd never experienced before in rugby.

"A lot of guys have been down here in our team. There's experienced guys here, so they know what's to come and we're well primed for it."

Henshaw has had his load lightened at training at the end of a long season, which allowed him to soak up the celebrations.

"It was so surreal, I couldn't believe it. It was like Galway had won the Sam. It was an unbelievable turn-out and to see the bonfires on the way home from Knock airport on the Saturday night. It was an experience I won't forget," he said.

"It was just a top-class way to go out and to finish off with them. As I said to a number of them 'this is not goodbye, it could be see you later in the future'. Anything could happen around the corner.

"But to finish in the way I did with the team. . . I've been with for four years, and when I was a kid, is incredible."

"It meant so much to people. There's a few question marks now, people saying: 'Don't go now' and 'we'll see what we can do', but it's done and I'm looking forward to a new test. But it was unreal."

The new test can wait, he has enough on his plate this weekend.

Irish Independent

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