Thursday 21 February 2019

Robbie Henshaw pinpoints one danger man Leinster will need to watch against Wasps

Robbie Henshaw going through his paces. Picture: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw going through his paces. Picture: Sportsfile
From far left: Robbie Henshaw in action against Joey Carbery last weekend. Picture: Sportsfile

Conor Sharkey

Games between Leinster and Munster hold a special kind of significance for Robbie Henshaw.

His Leinster debut came in the fixture in October 2016. His first appearance in the double-winning season was in the interprovincial derby almost exactly one year later.

On both occasions, Leinster came out on top and, thankfully, the result last Saturday went the right way as well.

"Having my first game in the Leinster jersey against Munster at home in the Aviva - it's probably one of the biggest fixtures of the year for us and our supporters - it's hard to top that.

"To be involved in that fixture for the last three years is special. To come out the right side of it and be victorious in the last three years in those fixtures is an added bonus.

"Munster are always a great outfit to play against and great competitors. Leading into this week it's a great primer for what's to come."

The primary aim of these derbies is the acquisition of league points. A fast start to the Guinness PRO14 was the target this year and Leo Cullen's men will be pleased with five wins from six and 24 points from 30 giving them a five-point margin at the top of Conference B.

An additional benefit of a good performance in interpro derbies is the potential to catch the eye of the Ireland coaching team with November just around the corner.

"Every player has it in the back of your mind. You're going out against competition; your own competition and competition for the Irish shirt as well.

"I think everyone has it in their heads that they want to go out and make their mark and show what they're capable of but as an individual player, you can't get too caught up in it.

"There is a little bit of an added bonus that you're coming up against players that are competing for the green shirt."

But before November there are plenty of big challenges to be overcome in October. First up a Wasps side that recorded a 27-point win the last time they visited the RDS.

Though that was almost three years ago, much of the Wasps squad will remember it fondly.

Watching

"I remember watching that game. It showed how good a team they were, and how good a team they still are. The last time we played them in the Aviva they were incredibly good. They have such talent across the board, in particular across their back three, Lima Sopoaga at 10. They've come on nicely this year.

"We had a look back at the game two seasons ago in the Aviva. We put in a pretty dominant performance but they showed in various aspects of the game what they're capable of and they got a few good tries against us. We know it's going to be a tough, tough fixture this week. It's always really exciting building into the first game of the Champions Cup. As a player, you always feel the energy and the pace of the game is a level up again."

Henshaw came into the squad in the summer of 2016 with nearly as many Ireland caps as his 23 years - young shoulders already carrying significant experience.

That season the European campaign delivered far more. Wasps came around again. This time in that quarter-final at Aviva Stadium.

That would be Leinster's day, offering another indication of how far Cullen's men had come since those humbling games at the RDS and Ricoh Arena just over a year earlier.

"We looked at clips of the quarter-final this week and for 90pc of that game, we were nearly at our best. We clicked in attack and defence. We showed a hunger in that game that we really wanted it. We're going to need that this week.

"It's great that it's at the RDS - it'll make it more special. It's going to be a tough battle, like back in the Aviva that day.

"I think it shows how much the squad has grown. Looking back at that fixture, that was a special day for us. And we want to replicate that this week again. I'm really looking forward to it, getting out there and going again."

If Leinster are to make a strong start and turn a European campaign into another European adventure, the role of the supporters will be a big one.

Speaking before the Champions Cup final against Racing 92, Henshaw said, "We owe a lot to the fans this year. The sea of blue in the crowd is unbelievable. We definitely know that this week we're going to need that as well."

They needed it and they got it. The welcome to the San Mamés by hundreds of blue-clad men and women who had travelled in planes, trains, automobiles and boat no doubt played a role that day. They were the added 1pc who helped to bridge the gap from three stars to four.

If Leinster are to cross that next bridge when they come to it, Henshaw knows they will need that support this week, and every weekend, home or away, from now until May.

Energy

"We can't do it without (the supporters). The energy and the buzz we get from playing in front of our home support, it might sound like a cliché, but it honestly helps so much.

"People talk about the '16th man' in terms of the crowd, but it's so important for us to play in front of such a good crowd. It spurs us on to do well.

"If you look back to last year on the road in this competition, a key game where the support was incredible was Montpellier away.

"We had unbelievable travelling support. We went over there and put down a marker in the competition.

"All the way through from then on we had that in our heads that we want to do it for the fans because we know they'll be there with us.

"It's great to have them. I think it's going to be key for us again this week. Every player loves playing in front of our home crowd. I think it's going to be a good night."

Irish Independent

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