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Robbie Henshaw ready for action after nailing Lions speech as Gaeilge


Robbie Henshaw passes the ball under the watchful eye of Dan Biggar. Photo: Getty Images

Robbie Henshaw passes the ball under the watchful eye of Dan Biggar. Photo: Getty Images

Robbie Henshaw passes the ball under the watchful eye of Dan Biggar. Photo: Getty Images

When Robbie Henshaw was studying hard for his Leaving Cert honours Irish paper, he could never have imagined that he'd one day stand up in his Lions suit at a formal gathering and deliver a speech in his native tongue.

After that sort of pressure, facing Sonny Bill Williams at Eden Park this morning will be easy.

The occasion was the Maori welcome ceremony at the birthplace of the state of New Zealand in Waitangi on Sunday and in response to the Hakas and song, Warren Gatland asked one of the Irish contingent to say a few words as Gaeilge. Henshaw got the nod.

"We had a discussion and seeing as I played in the west of Ireland, and it's an Irish-speaking area, I was directly in line for it," he said yesterday at the team hotel in Auckland.

"It was pinpointed between me and Tadhg Furlong but I was asking him a couple of days before if he wanted to go for it, but he had to prepare for the game so I had to take it on."

With the help of his sister Ali, a primary school teacher based in Dubai, he crafted the following words:

"Dia dhuit gach duine. Is mise Riobárd agus tá mé i mo chónaí i hIarmhí in éireann.

"Tá mé anseo inniu ag caint as gaeilge ar son foireann Lions agus ar son foireann na hÉireann," he said.

"Ba mhaith liom a rá gur tír álainn agus tír ar fheabhas i Nua-Shéalainn. Tá áthas an domhain orainn a bheith anseo inniu. Go raibh míle math agat, go raibh míle maith agat."

Reflecting on the event three days later, he's glad he got the nod.

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"It was nice to be able to get up and speak on behalf of the Irish and to show the Irish culture within the set-up," he said.

"I said thanks for having us, it's great to be here. I'm from the Midlands in Ireland and just thanks very much to New Zealand, it's a beautiful country, a beautiful place. It was short and sweet.

"I had a little bit of help from home, from family. My sister is a teacher so she's pretty fluent in Irish, so I got a bit of help from that just to scratch up the little areas in it and fix it up. It was all good, mostly my own work though.

"I didn't think I'd have to bring it down to New Zealand and take it out of the locker. It's been locked away there for 10 years, I haven't spoken Irish in a long time.

"I felt a bit of pressure before it and I was a bit nervous getting my language back and obviously getting my accent back. It was tricky enough."

Having delivered his speech, now he gets to focus on his primary role on the rugby pitch and his mission to secure a Test starting spot in a few weeks' time.

This morning, he dons the Lions No 12 jersey for the first time and in his opposite number, Williams, he will face a man he has long admired.

"I was a big fan of his when I was a kid," he said of Williams.

"Whether it was performing in league or for the All Blacks, I suppose to be coming up against him is pretty surreal. I'm looking forward to playing against him and having a go.

"I think we get two jerseys, so I'll keep one and swap one.

"It's definitely one to keep, it's a massive honour. I just want to wear it with pride, to go out there and do what I usually do.

"It's obviously the top, top level of the sport for us and to be in this position is unbelievable.

"I just want to go out there and do myself proud, do my family proud and do the best that I can."

After the first team out fluffed their lines against the Provincial Barbarians on Saturday, the completely new starting XV are hoping to lay down a marker against the first of the five Super Rugby franchises they'll face on tour.

It's about setting a tone.

"We need to come with an attack mentality here. We can't sit off and let these boys play because they can tear teams up in the blink of an eye," Henshaw said.

"Our mentality is to go after these teams and to show our mentality, that we're coming here to play and to go after these teams in defence as well.

"That's the mentality we're going to look at and trying to implement."

Having nailed his speech, he's ready for the Eden Park stage and a tour full of possibilities.

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