In less than four weeks the British and Irish Lions will kick off their highly anticipated tour of New Zealand and ahead of the tourists’ arrival on southern shores, Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw has addressed the host nation’s ‘on-the-edge’ tackling style.
The Irishman was part of the Ireland side that finally defeated the All Blacks last November in Chicago and after 111 years of trying, Henshaw and his Irish teammates braced themselves for the inevitable backlash two weeks later when the world champions came to Dublin.
Expecting a massively aggressive contest, the ferocity of New Zealand’s tackling took everyone aback and while the vast majority of the bruising exchanges were legal, a handful stood out as perhaps having fallen on the wrong side of the line for what is permitted.
Early exits for Henshaw, CJ Stander and Rob Kearney for head injury assessments highlighted the physicality of the New Zealand side that came to Dublin seeking redemption.
Now, ahead of the three test series with the double-defending world champions, Henshaw has spoken of the All Blacks’ tackling and admitted at the Lions first official get-together that he does enjoy a good ‘niggle’.
“It’s all part of it.
“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.”
This is a powerful statement coming from a man who was unceremoniously knocked senseless by a contentious Sam Cane challenge last November.
Making reference to Ireland’s first defeat of New Zealand, Henshaw admitted they knew what to expect in Dublin.
“We tried to prime ourselves for what was to come and the onslaught as they were hurting from the first game.
“It’s going to be similar down there and we need to try our best to get off to a great start and do the business on them. There’s a lot of work to be done before then. Mentally we need to be prepared, it’ll be a mental battle down there.”
So with Henshaw and co fully aware of what they must overcome if they are to secure a winning test series, the only question now is can they outsmart the All Blacks and absorb the withering physicality the home side excels at and thrives on?
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena