Monday 19 March 2018

Henshaw relishing prospect of partnering 'world-class' Aki with Ireland

Robbie Henshaw is on the way back. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw is on the way back. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

In many ways it is quite difficult to fully judge Robbie Henshaw's first Lions tour.

Having found himself in the midweek dirt-trackers team, none of his four appearances included either Johnny Sexton or Owen Farrell starting inside of him.

To add to that, two of those four starts included Grieg Laidlaw at scrum-half and not even the most die-hard of Scottish supporters would claim that the Clermont man had a good tour.

Henshaw showed glimpses of his quality but it was apparent from early on that Warren Gatland would favour Ben Te'o and later Farrell.

After two losses against the Blues and Highlanders, Henshaw was part of a winning team against the Chiefs before his tour was cruelly cut short when he ripped his pectoral muscle off the bone.

Come Monday, it will have been 12 weeks since the 24-year-old underwent surgery to repair the damage and he is now targeting a return in Leinster's home game against Edinburgh on Friday.

All told, Henshaw will have benefited hugely from his first taste of playing with the Lions and the likelihood is that he will get another chance to prove himself in South Africa in 2021.

"It depends how you look at it," he said when asked if he felt under pressure to change his game in New Zealand to mirror that of Te'o's.

"I'll go on being Robbie Henshaw and I'll do what I usually do, play how my coach wants me to play.

"I can vary my game. I can be a crash-ball runner if you want me to, I can be a distributor if you want me to and I have a variety of kicking that I can use as well.

"The way it fell, I think Ben had really good performances and he played a lot with Johnny (Sexton) and Owen Farrell, whereas I was playing with Dan Biggar a good bit, so it was a good learning and I liked how he played, but for me personally I'll just keep improving my own game, keep asking questions of myself and keep looking to get better."

Henshaw's return is a timely boost for both Leinster and Ireland ahead of the November internationals. The Athlone native has become an integral part of Joe Schmidt's masterplan and he may be about to be joined by his former team-mate Bundee Aki in a new-look Irish midfield.

Aki trained with Ireland at their recent mini-camp and Henshaw is relishing the possibility of lining up alongside the powerful Kiwi again.

"It's a bit down the road, but listen, it's great to have him in there," Henshaw enthused.

"I know he was always hemming and hawing about what he was going to do, and he was unsure, but I think he's really settled now.

"It'll be great to have him there because he is a world-class player and I think he'd add value to the group as well. I'm really looking forward to having him in and hopefully he gets a run-out.

"I know there was a bit of stir back there (New Zealand) and I think Richie McCaw mentioned that they let him go a bit easily. Comparing him to the other centres back there, he's well able to punch above his weight.

"His voice on the pitch is really good, and his knowledge of the game, his vision. He's not just a straight-line runner or a bash-it-up player, he's well able to distribute and put guys into space.

"I suppose his offloading game and being able to pull something out of nothing, that's where he's most dangerous."

Now well settled in his new Dublin surrounds, Henshaw's sights are firmly set on building on last season's two semi-final defeats by ending what will be Leinster's four-year wait for a trophy.

"The quality of our squad, I think we're able to deal with all the heavyweight teams in Europe and I think we can go and win trophies in this club," he added.

"Last year was a great year - the amount of tries we scored was unbelievable, but we're not happy with where we finished and I think that's evident in the group. We want to kick on again and go one better."

Robbie Henshaw was speaking at the announcement of Bank of Ireland's new five-year sponsorship with Leinster Rugby


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