Robbie Henshaw is confident that he is better placed to excel for the British and Irish Lions on this year’s tour to South Africa than he was in 2017.
Ireland centre Henshaw toured New Zealand with the Lions four years ago but was mostly used midweek in the warm-up games before the series against the All Blacks, a sign that he would not be starting in the tests.
Henshaw’s chances of winning a test cap for the Lions were ended after he suffered an injury against the Hurricanes in between the first two tests, having missed out on the first test match at Eden Park.
The Irishman was speaking after being nominated for the 2021 Zurich Men’s Players’ Player of the Year Award and said he is confident that the experience he gained from the last tour will help him in South Africa next month.
Happy Birthday @henshawrob 🎉
Have a great day & see you in camp tomorrow for some delayed cake* 🎂
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 12, 2021
‘I’m definitely in a better position going into this tour.’
“Looking back on that tour I played a lot of games in the midweek team. I think the test team was quite rock solid. The lads were playing really well so I knew it was quite hard to get in there,” Henshaw explained.
“Anything could have happened and there were guys who did get in for the last test and a few got on the bench for the second test.
“You had to be optimistic. Anything can happen in rugby. But I think going into this one, I think the last one has been a great learning [curve] for me.
“I’ve picked up a lot along the way and got a lot of experience since that tour so I’m definitely in a better position going into this tour.”
Robbie Henshaw has been widely tipped to start against the Springboks.
Henshaw has been widely tipped to start for the Lions against the Springboks next month after his impressive performances for both Ireland and Leinster this season.
While the 28-year-old can take plenty of confidence from the backing of many pundits and former players, he admitted that it does come with some added pressure.
“I suppose it’s a bit of both. It’s great to see when you do see it. I don’t read too much into it now but yeah, I think when people are backing you it’s great. It gives you a bit of confidence and a bit of pressure,” Henshaw said.
“But as a player, once you get into camp it’s not based on what you’ve done in previous years and previous months. You have to hit the ground running and continue that in training and again when you get your chances in the games.”
Henshaw willing to hand over his cultural responsibilities to Tadhg Furlong.
Henshaw comes from a family heavily involved in the traditional Irish music scene and is able to play the accordion, fiddle, guitar and piano.
The Athlone native used those musical talents in New Zealand four years ago, and took on many of the cultural responsibilities for the Irish contingent on that tour.
However, Henshaw is willing to allow Leinster and Ireland teammate Tadhg Furlong take on those responsibilities this time around in South Africa.
“I think I’m going to hand it over to Tadhg Furlong this year. I did it for the last tour – I spoke a bit of Irish in New Zealand and led the Fields of Athenry for choir practice and for songs. After being greeted by the haka we’d sing the Fields of Athenry and we’d sing a few other songs,” Henshaw explained.
“But yeah, I think I’m going to hand it over to Tadhg this year. He has to come up with a song – an Irish song. I don’t know who’ll talk the Irish – maybe Tadhg Beirne might do the Irish or maybe Conor Murray.
“I’ll potentially bring the accordion. I think Paddy O’Reilly, the bag man, is travelling and he’s huge for trad and folk and a bit of country and he’s making me bring it. So we’ll have a few sing songs.”
Expanded South African involvement in the soon-to-be Pro16.
Henshaw and his Lions teammates who play in the Guinness Pro16 will be seeing lots more of their South African rivals after the tour this summer, with four franchises from the rainbow nation set to join the league next season.
Two South African clubs used to partake – the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings – but the four clubs joining next year are the strongest the country has to offer, with roughly half of those named in the Springboks squad for the Lions series plying their trade with one of the four.
Leinster have won the last four Pro14 titles, and while that may soon change with the introduction of the four South African sides, Henshaw believes it is a major positive for the league.
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— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) June 12, 2021
“I think with the South African teams coming in it’s going to add a huge challenge. Physically they’re bigger sides than we’d usually play. Bigger men, bigger packs and quicker probably – the athleticism in their backline as well,” Henshaw commented.
“They’ve got some really rapid guys on the wings and in the outside backs so I think it’s going to be great for the league. It’ll definitely improve us and it’ll definitely improve the league and the competitiveness of the league. It’s probably what’s needed.
“It’s great, I’m looking forward to it. Also all the lads love a tour down to South Africa. I remember the Leinster lads were loving it the last time they were there. They said it was a brilliant three weeks. It’s class to have that as well.”