Robbie Henshaw’s best campaign ever could earn him player of year award

Leinster player looks back on a very different season and forward to Lions tour

Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Ulster’s Iain Henderson and Nick Timoney in Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup, RDS, May 14th. Photograph: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Ulster’s Iain Henderson and Nick Timoney in Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup, RDS, May 14th. Photograph: INPHO/Bryan Keane

 

Leinster’s season is done. By any yardstick, retaining the Guinness Pro14 title not once but, technically, twice in the same season and reaching the semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup would be regarded as a decent effort. But Leinster have a higher benchmark than that.

While Robbie Henshaw has also arguably had his best campaign ever, it’s clear that the Euro semi-final defeat against La Rochelle still lingers.

“It wasn’t a terrible season but we judge ourselves on how well we do in Europe, and we want European success, and continued European success. But we’ve come up short a few years now and that’s where we need to get to.

“There have been positives. I think we’ve used 60 players this season, there’s a lot of Academy guys who’ve got their first caps. There’s been massive work done throughout the whole organisation.

“We’ve still won a title this season, two titles I suppose if you bring last year and this year together, but the expectation on the team is huge and hopefully come next season we’ll be in the mix for a European title and a fifth star.”

Since the resumption last August, Henshaw has played 13 games for Leinster, four against Munster and three against Ulster, including a Pro14 semi-final and both finals, and five games in Europe, including two quarter-finals and a semi-final.

He’s also played in nine tests for Ireland. Initially on the bench for Ireland’s first re-arranged Six Nations game against Italy, thereafter Henshaw became one of the first names on the team sheet.

Injury free

He attributes his form to an injury-free run of a games and a shift in approach. “Not worrying about the outside noise and not worrying about outcomes is a big thing. Small little shifts in mindset. The first lockdown assisted with that as well.”

Henshaw’s form has been such that he is probably favourite to win the Zurich Players’ Player of the Year award, in conjunction with Rugby Players Ireland, even from a shortlist containing Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and Tom Daly.

Describing it as an honour, Henshaw added: “I’ve had a bit of success with the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year awards a few years back when I was a young lad. I got it three years in a row and the lads were like: ‘C’mon now, what’s going on? Who are you paying?’

“But when you look through the names of the players who have won it before and who have been nominated before, it’s a great milestone to be in there among great players. Tom, Iain and Tadhg have all had phenomenal seasons, so it’s great.”

A virtual shoo-in for the Lions’ squad, he goes into this tour as a more mature 28-year-old (his birthday was last Saturday) with 52 caps than the 24-year-old with 29 caps four years ago.

He trucked it up repeatedly and tackled superbly when pigeon-holed into the midweek team, which ended when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle against the Hurricanes and flew home before the second test. It looked like a tough gig.

“Not really. Looking back and looking at the test team they selected, I had no arguments at all with it. I think the [test] squad they selected was top class. I enjoyed the tour. I played against a lot of great teams down there. I played against Sonny Bill Williams in my first game, which was class.

“I was quite a young lad as well so it was all new to me. I wasn’t expecting to walk in the door and be straight into a test side. But not many lads can say they played against the Blues, the Highlanders, the Chiefs and the Hurricanes.

“Obviously, getting injured was a pain in the a*** but these things happens. It was quite a brutal tour in terms of the physicality, playing against big teams and big men. But I’ve taken a lot from that tour and hopefully I’ll use it as a positive going into this tour.”

The experience taught him of the need to be on top of everything from the outset and, having had three different midfield partners in Jared Payne, Jonathan Joseph and George North, to be adaptable.

“There’s a lot of individual responsibility to be the best you can be. You’re there for a reason and you have to live up to that expectation. You have to know your detail, you have to get up to speed with the calls and you have to know and understand how the players operate.

“We’re quite used to knowing players inside out in Ireland and how they like to operate, but it’s quite tough because you’re going in with new guys and you don’t really know how they operate. So you need to try and get used to them as soon as you can and that’s through training, sitting down and having a coffee and a chat with them.”

Like everyone, he’s learned how to live in bubbles and play in empty stadiums, yet he’ll also be more determined to make the test team this time. “I’ve a bit of a wiser head on me I think.”

But he doesn’t buy into the theory that the Springboks, not having played since their World Cup triumph, will be under-cooked.

“A lot of their international players are playing around the globe, a lot in the northern hemisphere. I’ve been keeping an eye on South African club rugby as well, they’re all playing week in, week out. They are all sharp and fresh. It doesn’t give us an advantage I don’t think.”

Nominees for the Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards

Zurich Men’s Players’ Player of the Year 2021

Tadhg Beirne, Munster Rugby

Tom Daly, Connacht Rugby

Iain Henderson, Ulster Rugby

Robbie Henshaw, Leinster Rugby

Zurich Women’s Players’ Player of the Year 2021

Eimear Considine, Munster Rugby

Munster’s Eimear Considine, nominated for Zurich Women’s Players’ Player of the Year award 2021. Photograph: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Munster’s Eimear Considine, nominated for Zurich Women’s Players’ Player of the Year award 2021. Photograph: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Stacey Flood, Leinster Rugby

Beibhinn Parsons, Connacht Rugby

Dorothy Wall, Munster Rugby

Winners to be announced at the Zurich Rugby Players Ireland Awards, Wednesday, December 1st.

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