Tuesday 20 March 2018

Robbie Henshaw: This is the most important game of the year - it will define our season

Matt Healy on his way to scoring against Zebre last weekend. Robbie Henshaw took a knock in the build-up but passed a subsequent concussion test to return to the action
Matt Healy on his way to scoring against Zebre last weekend. Robbie Henshaw took a knock in the build-up but passed a subsequent concussion test to return to the action

Robbie Henshaw

It's always a long, tough trip to Italy to play Zebre or Treviso, but to come home with five points, six tries and still be in with a shot of making the top six made it the perfect weekend away.

A morale-boosting win like that was just what we needed ahead of such a massive weekend for us. Tomorrow's clash with the league leaders Ospreys will be a huge challenge, but with home advantage, we are confident we can do the business.

Their form has been excellent - and a six-game unbeaten run makes them deserving table-toppers with one game to go.

However, they are still not guaranteed a home semi-final. With just one point separating the top four there are plenty of permutations still there of who will play whom in the last four. Hopefully we can throw a spanner in the works tomorrow.

We're not too concerned who the top four are: we have our own battle to worry about. Three weeks ago people thought all hope was gone when we lost to Glasgow, especially the manner in which we didn't play the way we had been, but Dragons' defeat of Edinburgh last weekend and our own win over Zebre means we are back in control of our play-off destiny.

There's a number of ways which we could qualify so we'll see what happens - it's all up in the air.

The most important thing was we came away with the win from Parma, got the bonus point and ended our losing streak. Confidence is high again ahead of Ospreys.

We spoke last week about the importance of doing the basics right in Italy, and right from the start we hit our targets. We competed very well physically and the set-piece was excellent again, so when John Cooney ran in his first try it was well deserved.

He had a great game. He has brought something every time he has come off the bench. He adds a bit of flair, and for him to get a start last week was reward for the hard work that he's doing. And he took that with two hands.

Then Kieran Marmion came off the bench and did what he does best, so fair play to him as well. It just shows the quality we have in our scrum-halves - that competition can only make us better as a team.

John took a lovely line off Matt Healy for his first try, and Matt's score came about after I forced their centre into a knock-on in the tackle. Matt took his score brilliantly, but the hit left me a bit sore afterwards.

I took a bit of a knock, so I was called off for a precautionary concussion test. I knew I was fine, but with any potential head injuries we always have to listen to the doctors who make the decision for us.

In the end I was fine, I passed the concussion tests and I was back again after a few minutes. But it is such an important thing that our doctors are there to protect us.

Just before I got back on I saw John run in his second try and that was a real pleasing score. It was straight off the training pitch, one that we practised all week.

We finished off the job nicely in the second half with tries from Eoghan Masterson, Tiernan O'Halloran and Shane O'Leary.

It was also great to see Conor McKeon step up from the academy and play such an assured game. It brought back memories of when I came into the team first - one of my first games was against Zebre.

Before he came on I thought Jack Carty was superb, though. He has come in for a bit of flak recently, which is something I guess out-halves have to get used to, but he's taken on so much responsibility this year. Against Zebre, his passing was crisp, his goal kicking was spot on and his tactical side of the game kept us ticking too.

This game tomorrow will be huge and I think we definitely have another massive performance left in us especially for the occasion.

Already at home we've beaten Leinster and Munster; we should have pushed Glasgow closer; and Ulster only narrowly pipped us too. The Sportsground is our fortress and we want to defend that.

There's no doubt that Ospreys are full of quality. Their half-back pairing Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar is the best in the league, and they have some hugely experienced players like Alun-Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric in their pack. We'll have to be at our best.

This is the most important game of the year for us now. This will define our season as a success if we get the win, and if results elsewhere go our way too, it could be a season to remember.

There is pressure on us to get a result, but there is quite a bit on Ospreys too. They need a win to secure a home semi-final and we all know historically what failing to play your semis at home means.

We'll be hoping for Treviso and Leinster to win their games against our rivals to help our cause, but its pointless guessing what might happen until we produce the goods ourselves. We'll know what has happened once we hear the reaction of the Sportsground at full-time.

We need to go up a step from last week, we need to hit new heights to beat Ospreys, but I'm confident that we can do it. A win would be the perfect way to end the season and hopefully we'll have plenty to celebrate at 5.0 tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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