Thursday 18 July 2019

Henshaw expecting a 'battle' in first taste of knockout fare

Robbie Henshaw will face off against several of those England players who were beaten by Ireland when Leinster face Wasps on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw will face off against several of those England players who were beaten by Ireland when Leinster face Wasps on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For all that Robbie Henshaw has achieved in his still-fledgling career, it's easy to forget that he has yet to feature in the knockout stages of Europe's premier competition.

Playing a main part in occasions like Saturday's Champions Cup quarter-final against Wasps is the reason Henshaw made the difficult decision to leave Connacht.

The 23-year-old probably still ponders the move to the capital but when he runs out at the Aviva, it will sit that bit easier with him.

Connacht have struggled this season with their squad depth stretched to breaking point as they fought on both fronts.

Henshaw's absence has undoubtedly been felt out West and as they struggle to maintain their status amongst Europe's elite, one of their most treasured sons is really starting to find his feet in his new surroundings.

Benefited While some would argue with Henshaw's assessment that Ireland's Six Nations campaign was "brilliant", there is no question that Leinster will have benefited from having a settled 10-12-13 axis in which Johnny Sexton, Henshaw and Ringrose all performed well.

Henshaw and Ringrose's centre partnership has unbounded potential and with Sexton looking close to his best again, the trio were back in provincial set-up this week brimming with confidence.

In contrast, Elliot Daly, James Haskell, Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes will all return to the scene where their Grand Slam and world record dreams were crushed two weeks ago.

Henshaw and nine more of his Leinster team-mates were involved in Ireland's win that day but the Athlone native believes that the memories can be used to fuel both sets of players.

"Definitely yeah, for the internationals in the squad coming back in this week, it gives us good confidence going into it (Saturday)," he says. "A handful of their players were playing that day as well. From the other side of it, you could look at it as them being hungry to come back to try and turn things around. We know what they are like and we know what a few of the individuals are like as well. It's going to be an exciting battle.

"It's good to be back with the young lads and to offer them some advice and to help them out. We had a brilliant Six Nations, to finish off on a high to beat England was a great positive for us, it was great for our confidence.

"To have guys like Johnny and Garry on either side of me is class and I am sure the team will benefit massively from Johnny and Garry alone and Luke McGrath coming back as well."

According to the Wasps camp, last year's two wins over Leinster have not been mentioned at all this week. In Leinster's case, it will linger in the back of the players' minds but, at the same time, there is a stark realisation within the group that they are in an altogether better position.

For all of the plaudits that Wasps' attacking game has come in for this season, their remarkable 73 tries scored in 18 league games is bettered by Leinster's 79 in the same number of Pro12 clashes.

Wasps would however argue that they do not have the luxury of playing abject Italian teams like Treviso and Zebre.

"We are playing with a lot of confidence, our attacking game is quality," Henshaw insists.

"We've shown that in the league, we've scored a lot of tries. It's about going out and executing. Our attack is pretty good.

"On the other side our defence has to be world-class this week. Wasps are top of the Premiership and they have scored a lot of tries, an average of four a game and they have scored the most in the Premiership. We know the challenge that is coming for us.

Dynamic "They have wheels on the edges with ball-players like (Danny) Cipriani and (Jimmy) Gopperth so we need to be on our toes. We need to be ready for what's coming at us along with their dynamic ball-carriers in the pack.

"It's knockout rugby and whatever we need to do to win, we will do it."

Playing at the Aviva might be second nature for Henshaw but what is at stake is certainly uncharted territory.

"I think the atmosphere is going to be incredible," he adds.

"For me personally it is my first quarter-final in the Champions Cup so it is all positive and it is all exciting."

At the same time that Leinster bid to reach the last four in Europe, Connacht will scrap it out with Zebre in the Pro12.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out which game Henshaw would rather be involved in.

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