Friday 24 January 2020

'We need to be managed but I felt I was hitting a bit of form'

Big Interview: Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw hard at work in a gym session. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw hard at work in a gym session. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Robbie Henshaw is relaxed and in good form. Two weekends away from rugby and allowed to enjoy all that Christmas and New Year could throw at him. Well, almost all.

"It was lovely. Able to put the feet up for a bit and just enjoy time at home with the family and get some time away from rugby. Definitely a good break was had but you probably would still be keeping half an eye on the games coming up so you don't go too mad!"

Robbie Henshaw in action against Ulster during the interprovincial series. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw in action against Ulster during the interprovincial series. Photo: Sportsfile

A good break may have been had but for Irish international Henshaw, 26, he would have been happy enough to just keep trucking away.

"It's a funny one because it's going to be, hopefully, a very long season. Pre-season for the World Cup into the Leinster season and then hopefully we get to play on into June. And then a summer tour with Ireland hopefully in July.

"That's long. So we all understand that at the right time we need to be managed right and we need to be eased out of action for our own good, but this year I felt I was hitting my straps and a bit of form and I just wanted to keep playing but look, you trust the process that is there for our own welfare."

He will, of course, return to a team unbeaten so far this season.

"It's not something we focus on. Of course we want to win our games, all our games, but to say we want to play the whole season unbeaten? No. That would be hugely disrespectful and besides, thinking that far ahead won't get us very far this week which is where we need to put all our energy.

"The team have been going well though, that's true but there is nothing like a European week to remind you just how quickly everything can come crashing down around you. The stakes are higher and we just want to put in a performance that allows us to keep chasing the points we need for that home quarter-final."

While Henshaw may have only featured on five occasions so far this season since returning from the Rugby World Cup, he did play all five of those games in a six-week block just before Christmas. Benetton off the bench, and then starts against Lyon, Northampton back-to-back, and finally Ulster - 298 of the 400 minutes on offer were played. Time enough to build up form and a head of steam.

Enjoyable

"When you have a game like we had against Ulster, so fast and open, it's really enjoyable and you'd have loved to have kept going again to Limerick on the 28th but, as I said, the break did me the world of good too and I'm just raring to go now."

In truth, he should also have played against Connacht away in November but a stomach bug kept him out of that game having been announced to start. But he is where he is and of course he also saw a bit of action in Abbotstown over Christmas at the Ireland get-together.

"It was just good to be back amongst the lads again and obviously new faces, new voices, it just freshens it all up again. We pushed the boat out as well in terms of the off-the-field stuff that we did. We went carol singing that night in town for Focus Ireland and then went for a bite to eat as a squad afterwards and then an invitation was sent out to all the wives, partners and the kids of the players and staff to come in for a Christmas lunch when all was done on the Monday.

"That was lovely actually because we miss a lot in terms of being away from home but our families do too. Especially for the lads with young kids, their wives and partners at home, it's a lot on them to see their dads heading away.

"So I think it was a really nice gesture and Santa came along and we all enjoyed a Christmas lunch together in the High Performance Centre. I think that just shows maybe the focus of the new environment too. A family setting, where it's about the player yes, but also the people and the support structures that he has around him and making sure they feel part of it because that is crucial too. We can't do what we do without their support and it was nice to have that acknowledged."

And then it is back in to Leinster. For a player that made his Ireland debut against the USA in 2013, that transition back in to club mode is nothing new but it is a process that is improving for him personally but also for the team itself.

"You definitely get better at it as a player. It's not easy by any means especially after a long tournament but you quickly find your groove again. What I think has improved massively though is that you are not cast adrift completely from your club.

"Obviously they respect that you are away with the national team but you would be kept in the loop on general things or sent a few clips here and there on maybe things that are evolving. So when you come back then it's not completely alien to you. You have an idea of what they have been trying to achieve."

After a well-earned break over Christmas, he will now be hoping to hit his straps by 1pm on Sunday in the RDS.

"I feel good, as I said. Well rested after the break. The lads have gone really well over the last few weeks and now it's up to the rest of us to put into practice what we learned when we played them the last time out in Lyon and hopefully show that we have also improved as a team."

Sold-out

The thought of another sold-out RDS waiting for them is something else that isn't too far from his mind.

"The atmosphere last weekend was class.

"The place was buzzing before the game and during it. To have over 18,000 for a game like that and now again this weekend is brilliant.

"We'll need it too because this team are good. Second in the Top 14 and only three losses all season in France. Last weekend they were 12-0 down at half-time yet came back in the second half to win 13-12. Away from home. Everyone says that the French don't travel but this is a different Lyon team and we have seen that in our review.

"They are competitive and stay in the fight for the full 80 minutes and we will have to be ready for that."

Irish Independent

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