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joys in green Henshaw embracing the ‘big pressure’ of helping Ireland finish 2021 on a high

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Robbie Henshaw, with Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, hasn't been seen since August due to a niggling foot injury. Photo: Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw, with Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, hasn't been seen since August due to a niggling foot injury. Photo: Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw, with Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, hasn't been seen since August due to a niggling foot injury. Photo: Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw is no stranger to hitting the ground running after a long injury lay-off, and he will have to lean on all of that experience come tomorrow afternoon.

The last time we saw Henshaw in action was in August, when he started his third consecutive Lions Test in South Africa, but without any game-time since, it will be a big ask to get to the pitch of a full-blooded international match.

A niggly foot injury, which had been bothering him for a while, flared up on his return to Leinster pre-season training, and as much as it hurt to sit out last weekend’s win over the All Blacks, the Athlone native knew he had to allow the knock to fully heal.

Bundee Aki’s enforced absence for the Argentina game opened the door for Henshaw to return to the Ireland midfield, and after an outstanding Lions tour, he is hoping to pick up where he left off.

“It’s been a while since I’ve actually returned from an injury, so I suppose yeah it’s about just taking off where you left off from,” Henshaw said.

“I have had that history before where I haven’t had a lot of time to get myself ready to be ready for big games. I’ve been there before. Looking at the lads who were touring in South Africa, they have only played about three or four games more than me. It’s great they are not too far ahead.”

After enduring injury disappointment on the 2017 Lions tour, Henshaw was a key man in South Africa.

“I was delighted to get three Test caps, three starts, it was probably top of my list if I looked back the previous season,” Henshaw reflected.

“I definitely learned a lot from it and I’ll certainly take it forward into the future in my career. It was a great experience and a great group of lads and probably a more enjoyable tour than the 2017 one.

“I think my general understanding of the game, it has definitely improved throughout the years.

“The game is always evolving. New things coming in every season. It’s great to be in a position that we are adapting and learning on the run. It’s great, just a general understanding of being put in a high-pressure situation. Definitely helps you grow as a player.”

For all his experience and form before suffering the foot injury, Henshaw is not immune to the pressures of returning to a winning team.

Aki has been excellent over the last two games, but there is a comfort on Henshaw’s part, knowing he is slotting back into a midfield alongside his Leinster teammate, Garry Ringrose, who himself has rediscovered his best form.

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“I suppose there is big pressure on us now to make it three in a row and three really good performances,” the 28-year-old insisted.

“That is the standard we can produce. That is the expectation from us as players whenever we take the field and the expectation from the wider squad.

“The staff, the coaches, expect us to play like that every time. You can’t play perfectly every time but the last two weeks have been great, we have been really accurate, so I think that can be the focus for us, to put in the same level of performance.

“We want to continue to be accurate, to be disciplined, to not give away too many penalties, to take our chances when they come.”

Although he had a watching brief at the Aviva Stadium last weekend, Henshaw had trained with Ireland throughout the week, and he felt the stunning performance against the All Blacks was coming.

“It was tough not to be involved, but sitting in the stands, it was incredible to watch,” he said.

“It was a memorable day for me, to just see the performance as a whole, the team performance.

“It was just a special performance, one that was definitely coming. You could see through all the work within the squad that this (performance) has been on the horizon for a long time.

“You could see glimpses of it in the last game of the Six Nations against England; this was a step up on that. It was great to be there to watch it.”

Now, back where he belongs in the thick of the action, Henshaw is looking to make up for lost time.

“We definitely have eyes on the World Cup in 2023, so it is building foundations and building slowly from here to there,” he added.

“That’s a huge focus in the squad: that you can be called on any time and you have to be able to execute.”

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