Ireland centres know a thing or two about rough justice and off-the-ball skulduggery in New Zealand, but Robbie Henshaw is primed to embrace any late hits coming his way.
Monday was a day of logistics for the 41-man British & Irish Lions squad as they met in a country pile in west London to collect their vast amount of kit for the summer’s tour of New Zealand. While some were old heads at this exercise — Sean O’Brien, a veteran of the 2013 tour, was particularly vocal, according to Henshaw — the young Ireland centre seemed genuinely excited, perhaps a little taken aback, at the occasion and what lies ahead.
As he sat speaking quietly to the press in Brentford, he reflected on how Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy’s pre-tour advice to him was to ensure he leaves any inhibition at the door.
“They said to come out of your shell, not to be too shy, to mingle and mix with everyone, get to know the lads and have good craic with them,” Henshaw said. “They said enjoy it, do what you usually do and execute everything to the best you can.”
Irish centres have trodden this path to New Zealand before. In 2005 O’Driscoll went to face the All Blacks as squad captain. But his Test series lasted just 40 seconds when he was upended by Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga, suffering a shoulder injury which ruled him out of the rest of the tour.
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)
But O’Driscoll didn’t feel the need to warn Henshaw over the potential brutality and physicality of the warm-up games. Henshaw, just 23 but with 29 caps behind him, can clearly take care of himself.
“On their side of the ball, it’s a great opportunity for those guys to play against a quality outfit like us,” Henshaw said. “To have that bit of niggle in rugby is needed and it gets both teams going.
“Me personally, I do like a bit of niggle in the game and it makes it more exciting to be involved in. The higher the physicality, the better for me.”
The challenge facing Henshaw is two-fold in New Zealand: both a physical and psychological test. “Mentally we need to be prepared, it’ll be a mental battle down there,” Henshaw said, but the experiences of the last few months will help prepare him.
He is one of the few folk in the squad to have beaten the All Blacks — he started in Ireland’s win over New Zealand in Chicago — and will bring that experience to the party. He has also faced the haka, twice, and knows what is in store there.
But there was still that ‘first day of school’ feeling for Henshaw and he was especially excited to receive the Lions-branded laptop bag, which he had seen with envy coaches and players wearing from previous tours.
Despite immersing himself in the Lions environment, Henshaw had half a mind on the rest of his domestic season with Leinster. It is domestic duties first before he will genuinely feel like a Lion.
“It is tricky, hopefully we have two games left — a [Guinness PRO12] semi-final and then a final — but I was coached all the way up not to look too far ahead so I will stick to that. Today is strictly Lions so I will stick to that today.
“It is good that we have a few days off from our province, then training towards the back end of the week to get ready for Scarlets the week after. It is great to be here, but I am not looking too far down the line, there is a lot of work to do yet.”
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Henshaw ready for rough justice on Lions tour
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