Henshaw: 'After huge season for Irish teams, we should be proud'
As Leinster get set to take on Castres in Round 6 of the Champions Cup, they do so in the knowledge that they have their place in the quarter-finals already assured. For a team out of Europe in December last year that is progress aplenty. Enough for some. Not so for Leinster and Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw.
"We had a target last week as we built towards Montpellier to get the win and get a quarter-final spot. It took a really big week of preparation and then a huge performance to get the result.
"It was brilliant. It always is when you achieve a goal like that as a team. It was a special night in the RDS but now we have the chance to achieve something greater again and that's hosting a quarter-final in the Aviva Stadium with a win on Friday.
"It would be brilliant for the supporters who made last Friday so special to reward them and we'd love another chance to run out at the Aviva. But we've a massive test ahead first."
As the final round of the Champions Cup comes into view, with it comes national team announcements as the Six Nations also looms large on the horizon.
Many would argue that Irish rugby is in a far healthier place than it was 12 months ago. A southern hemisphere hat-trick of wins is one element. The form of the four provinces is another.
"In many ways it shouldn't matter either way as on the one hand you park club form and club matters as soon as you drive through the gates at Carton House. You have to. You put form to one side, plays, structures, everything. So it shouldn't matter. It's like turning over a new page and you very quickly have to build a different mindset and a different team bond over the few weeks.
"On the other hand this weekend ourselves and Munster are already in the knockout stages and Connacht are in with a great shout too. Hopefully Ulster will get the better of Bordeaux so hopefully we will gather in Carton in great shape and then be able to turn our attentions towards the Six Nations but with a spring in our steps."
While Henshaw is no spokesperson for the wider Irish rugby community, or indeed Guinness Pro12 rugby, he is though proud of how the provinces have gone about their business. And of how the players have responded.
"At the start of the season I think a lot of people looked at the Irish sides and also other teams from the Pro12 and had a lot of doubt in their minds. Last year was a disappointing season in Europe and a lot of the focus was on the teams from the Premiership and the Top 14 and their numbers and their resources but I think we've seen the true form this season with no World Cup distractions. That is down to the hard work of the players ultimately and if we could get three Irish teams in the last eight it would mean a lot. It doesn't guarantee anything but it's a much better place to be for all concerned."
The Six Nations is next week's concern - the squad for the first two rounds is expected to be named by Joe Schmidt this weekend - but this week's concern is the home form of Castres Olympique. And what to do with a Golden Labrador named Kobe.
"I've been living with Jordi Murphy and his dog Kobe since moving to Dublin but he's been away working on his tan in LA so it's been me babysitting Kobe and making sure he's walked and fed. It's a good break for Jordi though. He's six or seven weeks now into his rehab and he's getting on great. He's not a huge fan of the Watt Bike - none of us are - but he's making progress every week."
With arrangements in place for Kobe this weekend, what are his thoughts on Castres?
"They are very similar to Montpellier in many ways. Big pack, experienced but then lads out wide with pace that can do real damage. They are also a very proud team at home and have only lost there once all season in the Top 14 and in Europe so they will work very hard to maintain that record. Some of the lads that played there over the last few seasons have also spoken about the ground. It's tight, compact, crowd on top of you so it's something we need to be aware of."
Have any lessons been learned from those games?
"Not so much those games because it's a different team, same as ourselves, but looking back at the game against them in the RDS we looked at how hard they went after the breakdown and they turned us over quite a bit so I think that's an area that we've looked at and where we need to work very hard to make sure they don't have that impact again. But ultimately we have to make sure that we are up to speed, that we are on point in how we go about our business and if we do that we won't be far off it."
He mentions a different Leinster team. A younger team too.
The team that featured in October 2014 in a 16-21 tight away win was filled with experienced Irish internationals.
Indeed the man in the number 12 jersey that day is the Leinster all-time caps holder Gordon D'Arcy on 261. The man that will fill the jersey this evening has eight.
"I was laughing only a few weeks back as I looked down at the team sheet and I had six Leinster caps to my name but I suppose I'd like to think that even though I am young and only starting my Leinster career I have a lot of Pro12 and European experience with Connacht and a few caps now with Ireland too so I'd like to think that I can bring some experience to the table."
Outside him is 21-year-old Garry Ringrose, on the wings 22-year-olds Adam Byrne and Rory O'Loughlin. Henshaw is the auld fella amongst them at the grand old age of 23.
"It's unique alright when you put it like that and Ross Byrne is still very young. Joey Carbery the same. But I'd like to think that we all take bits and pieces off each other. We are growing up together and doing it in the best place possible, on the pitch."
And that's not a bad place presently.
"We had a tough run the last six weeks. Go back to the two Northampton games, then the Pro12 games and three games in 11 days which thankfully we came through in good shape but now the ball is in our court.
"I ran out at the Aviva against Munster and it was special. We'd love to achieve that again and to be able to seal that would be a great way to finish this block of seven games. It's all we're focused on. One more massive performance."