ROBBIE HENSHAW OFFERS a wry smile and a shrug of the shoulders when he’s reminded he has yet to get the chance to return to the Sportsground since his decision to decamp east a couple of summers ago now.
“I wanted to play, but there was a bit of rotation,” he says. “It was just the way it happened in terms of my minutes.”
Henshaw pictured outside Leinster HQ this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
An earlier-than-expected return in the round two defeat at Scarlets, followed by starts in the home wins over Dragons and Edinburgh, means Henshaw had already met his early-season quota of minutes in Jason Cowman’s IRFU algorithm.
“Every player wants to keep playing and keep getting a run a games of together but as I said, a bit of rotation.”
As a result, the Leinster centre was given last weekend off and with it went the opportunity to return to the ground where it all started for another year at least, as he was reduced to a watching brief for the first inter-pro derby of the campaign.
The consolation is an expected start in Saturday’s clash with Munster at the Aviva Stadium, a fixture which holds particular individual relevance for Henshaw as it marked his long-awaited debut for the eastern province two years ago.
“I remember experiencing the hype during the week,” the 25-year-old continues, now looking back on that 25-14 victory in October 2016.
“The buzz was electric and just speaking to the lads about what this fixture means to everyone in the province, it’s a massive occasion. I’m looking forward to getting back out there and I suppose the fact that it’s in our home stadium for Ireland, in the Aviva, is an added bonus.”
Henshaw has made his seasonal reappearance in the corresponding fixture in both of his seasons with Leinster, but he goes into Saturday with three games already under his belt having featured in rounds two, three and four of the Guinness Pro14.
Even allowing for Ireland’s summer tour of Australia, the Athlone native has come into this season with a strong pre-season period behind him having made that miracle recovery from a dislocated shoulder to feature in the run-in of Leinster’s double-winning campaign.
On the back of an injury-free summer Henshaw is in prime condition now, he says, and was able to concentrate on things like mobility and skill work upon returning after his break in late July.
Sitting out Leinster’s trip to Galway also denied him the chance to come up against his good friend, and former team-mate, Bundee Aki in a mouth-watering midfield battle but, watching on, Henshaw doesn’t need to be told twice about the competition which exists in his position.
The centre has played 214 minutes so far this season. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
The long-term injury to Chris Farrell has ruled him out of the November internationals, but Aki’s form for Connacht in recent weeks, coupled with Garry Ringrose’s continued excellence, means there is a real push for those number 12 and 13 Test shirts, not to mention potential opportunities for Rory Scannell, Tom Farrell, Sammy Arnold and Dan Goggin.
“I think Bundee has been great, he’s had a great start to the season and looks incredibly sharp and it’s great that we have that competition in the country, and every player will want to better themselves when the others players in their position are playing well.
“It’s great that we have that and it makes me individually want me to get better as well.
“They [the inter-pros] are great building blocks. Not just this week but last week as well. They way they have led in has been great, to have two back-to-back inter-pros is something that hasn’t been done in a while this early in the year.
As it might be Ringrose’s turn to take a breather and be wrapped in cotton wool this week, Henshaw could be paired in the Leinster midfield with Joe Tomane for the first time, or Leo Cullen might indeed go for Rory O’Loughlin in the outside centre position as he did at Scarlets.
Either way, Tomane — the Wallaby arrival from Montpellier — appears to have impressed Henshaw.
“He’s been good, he had a really strong game last week, I thought,” the 36-time capped Ireland international adds.
“It takes a while for any new player to come in from a different team and a different structure defensively, and even offensively. It’s pretty tough and I suppose it’s hard to replicate everything in training because it’s not full on, it’s not full contact.
“So it took him a couple of games to get up to speed but he’s definitely there now. He’s just looking to keep building but he’s a real addition to the squad, I think his physicality is exceptional and his offloading game is great as well.”
Henshaw could partner Tomane for the first time on Saturday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Whoever Henshaw is partnering come Saturday teatime, they may well come up against a former team-mate in those midfield channels if Munster opt to unleash Joey Carbery on his erstwhile employers.
“I’ve never really tackled him full-on,” Henshaw laughs. “It’s been training and simulating tackles, not in a full-on match. He has great footwork, he is quick off the mark, but it will definitely spur us on to have our defence rock solid for the weekend.
“That’s what our goal has been the last few games so we want to keep going in the right direction, taking steps forward in defence and attack.
“If we change anything that’s where you can take your eye off the ball. We’ll do what we normally do and stick to our plans.”
Leinster-Munster is always a special occasion, and the allure seems to be as strong as ever with ticket sales reaching the 47,000 mark in advance of the 35th Pro12/Pro14 meeting of the provincial rivals.
“You just feel that competitiveness when you go out against them,” Henshaw concludes.
“It’s two teams going at it but you can’t get too fixed on emotions. You have to stick to your game plans.”
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