Thursday 22 February 2018

'We're fired up to show Saracens we belong'

Henshaw believes Connacht have mettle to rock European rebels

Connacht's Robbie Henshaw
Connacht's Robbie Henshaw
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

AS the axe hovers over the Heineken Cup, Connacht come face-to-face with one of the tournament's chief executioners tonight.

The westerners' very presence in this competition is one of the sticks English club owners regularly use to beat the competition with, but now they get a chance to make them eat their words at The Showgrounds.

They might not go as far as pinning the words of Saracens owner Nigel Wray and his Premier Rugby buddies to the home dressing-room wall, but the issue is on the Connacht players' minds.

Last year's semi-finalists are major advocates of the call to start a new competition and it is doubtful whether tonight's opponents would be on their wishlist for their proposed 'Champions Cup'.

"Certainly, Saracens don't see us as a team that should be in it," Robbie Henshaw acknowledged.

"That's going to get us going tomorrow night when we hear something like that. It fires us up to show we belong. It means we're going to be ready for them and it will get us going a little bit more."

Whether getting up for the visit of last year's semi-finalists will be enough remains to be seen and Connacht will need to be at their very best to pull off a result that would rank among their greatest.


The start to the season has been difficult under new coach Pat Lam, who must deal with the loss of tighthead props Nathan White and Ronan Loughney and the fact that Connacht come into the clash on the back of four successive defeats.

Their opponents have quality in every department and Connacht have struggled so far this season, but Henshaw reckons that a change of scenery from the Pro12 to the Heineken Cup can help the men in green turn it around.

"It has been a tough few games," the 20-year-old said. "We have come up short and played a few tough teams, so it is good to be able to park the Pro12 for two weeks and concentrate on big Heineken Cup games. The atmosphere down here will be electric, the crowd will get us going and will be in it with us.

"We're just concentrating on trying to perform and causing an upset against a very tough Saracens side.

"It's not an easy game by any means, but we're not really fazed by them and we're just concentrating on playing our game. They've never been to the Sportsground and we caused an upset against Biarritz last year. We'll see how it goes, but, hopefully, we'll get into them straight away and perform."

Henshaw gets another chance to impress at outside centre and he is one of those being tipped as a long-term successor to Brian O'Driscoll in a different shade of green jersey.

The Athlone man goes up against rugby league convert and England hopeful Joel Tomkins tonight. He made his breakthrough as a full-back, but the Ireland coaching staff will be delighted to see him get a real test in the No 13 shirt.

"I'm quite comfortable there. I like to be versatile and cover both. I'm not sure what position I'm going to stick to in the future; that's a decision I'm going to have to make soon, though," he said.

"Outside centre was my main position for the last two years at school, but I always played full-back for my dad's team (Buccaneers). I can play both and I'm not really fazed by it."

He got to play both during last summer's Ireland tour of the United States and Canada, an experience Henshaw is looking to build on this season.

Having started the 15-12 win over the Eagles and come off the bench for Darren Cave in the victory over Canada, he was happy with how his first senior tour went having become just the third teenager to represent Ireland in the professional age.

"Les (Kiss) had a word with me before (the game in Toronto) and said I'd be coming on at 13 and it is good that they had the confidence in me," he recalled.

"It is a tough position, you can be very exposed in defence and you have to make good decisions. It is great that they saw me there and brought me off the bench.

"The tour was amazing, to get a taste of what it was like. I'd been up in Carton House, but to actually pull on the jersey and go out and play in front of a crowd of 20,000 people was amazing. I really relished it and I'll never forget it.

"It was a dream come true and I was happy with the games themselves. There were obviously some things to work on, but I got stuck in and got to work."

Kiss stated last week that the Ireland coaches will use these Heineken Cup games as a barometer of where players are for the November internationals and Henshaw, the only Connacht player in the extended squad, knows that a performance tonight can move him up the pecking order.


"Definitely it is a massive opportunity for me to step up to the plate and show the coaches I can play well in big tests and will be able to deal with it.

"I won't be thinking about it too much, but I'll be out there to prove that I can handle it and perform."

If they are to cause a shock, Connacht will need a performance from their 20-year-old poster boy and he is determined to deliver on the big stage.

The English side look too strong, but strange things happen at the Sportsground. If they can pull this off, it will go down as one of their greatest results.

Verdict: Saracens

CONNACHT – G Duffy; F Carr, R Henshaw, J So'oialo, D Poolman; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, R Ah You; M Swift (capt), C Clarke; J Muldoon, J Heenan, G Naoupu. Reps: J Harris-Wright, P Reilly, JP Cooney, A Muldowney, A Browne, P O'Donohoe, C Ronaldson, T O'Halloran.

SARACENS – A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins, C Wyles, D Strettle; O Farrell, N de Kock; M Vunipola, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick (capt), G Kruis; K Brown, W Fraser, B Vunipola. Reps: J George, R Gill, J Johnston, A Hargreaves, E Joubert, R Wigglesworth, D Taylor, M Tagicakibau.

Ref – P Gauzere (France)

Connacht v Saracens,

Live, Sky Sports (Red Button), 8.0

Irish Independent

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