bit of luck | 

New leadership role has Robbie Henshaw ready to scale new heights

Ireland and Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw with his Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Men’s Player of The Year trophy after a year of standout performances in 2021. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ireland and Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw with his Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Men’s Player of The Year trophy after a year of standout performances in 2021. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

This time 12 months ago, Robbie Henshaw was about to embark on the best year of his already illustrious career.

Five impressive starts in Ireland’s Six Nations campaign secured his place on the plane to South Africa with the Lions before a foot injury in pre-season robbed him of another chance to feature in a memorable victory over the All Blacks.

For a 28-year-old who has packed a lot in his time as a professional rugby player, Henshaw has often missed big games due to untimely setbacks, but a clean run in 2021 showcased the heights he is capable of hitting when he gets that bit of luck.

In the middle of all his good form on the international stage, Henshaw was a powerhouse in Leinster’s midfield, and as he looks ahead to another big year, the Athlone man is determined not to stand still, as he aims to take his all-court game to even greater heights.

“For me, it’s constant improvement, looking at other centres or other players around the world to see what bits they’re bringing to the game and what they’re adding to their game,” Henshaw said after being named Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland men’s player of the year for 2021.

“That’s probably key, seeing where I can grow and keep developing.

“I suppose leadership as well. I’m one of the older lads in the backline now so bringing that through is going to be key for me. There’s a range of things that I can keep improving on and look forward to. It’s exciting times.”

It was interesting to hear Henshaw bring up ‘leadership’ of his own volition. For all that he has been around high performance environments since he was a teenager, Henshaw has never been renowned as being a major talker behind the scenes.

Leadership does, of course, come in many different forms, and while he has always led by example through his performances on the pitch, Henshaw’s standing in the world order of top-class centres has meant he is now looked upon to provide leadership in other ways.

That’s not something that has always come easy to him, as he explained: “It’s probably something you always have to work on. It’s essential that you show it when you play, and even behind closed doors when something needs to be said, you’re there.

“It can be uncomfortable to be talking a lot, it certainly wouldn’t be one of my biggest traits, being vocal behind closed doors so it’s a work-on for me.

“I think it’s essential that there are a few different voices within squads, helping the younger generation along the way.

“I think the coaches would always challenge you in that way, to be a leader, to make yourself known in the squad. That’s key. Coaches would always challenge you.

“For me, from my experience when I was younger, there was always that core leadership group, and a few key voices in the backline and in the forwards that would help you along the way.

“That helped me when I was younger so I’m trying to give back and help the younger guys coming up.”

Like Leinster in general, Henshaw has been in cold storage over the last month, with his last game coming against Connacht at the start of December.

Experience has taught him how to hit the ground running after a lengthy lay-off, but when every other player is in the same boat, that makes life more tricky, as Leinster look to get back up to speed on Sunday against Montpellier at the RDS.

“I think it adds an element of freshness to the squad, for the lads who haven’t played,” Henshaw maintained.

“Hopefully we’ll be going into this window now nice and rejuvenated and ready to go. That’s bringing it back to the pre-season, kind of a two- or three-week window where we can work on our fitness, work on our strength and we can hit the ground running when we go again.

“It comes down to the individual and how you prepare and I suppose the mental side of that is huge, mentally you’re ready for that shock of getting back into the intensity of a match because we haven’t played for a few weeks now, so it will definitely be a little bit of a shock to the system.”

After Leinster manage the next two weeks of European action, Henshaw’s attention will turn to the Six Nations.

“I think off the back of a really successful November, we’re definitely up there as favourites for the Six Nations,” he added.

“We have to try and kick on and deal with that pressure that’s going to be applied to us.

“We’ll have a huge confidence going into this competition off the back of a good summer series and a really good November series, so there’s huge confidence within the group and it’s a case of where we’re going in the squad and the question is, where we can we get to in terms of the next level?

“It’s really exciting times, but first and foremost we have to hit the ground running in that first game (against Wales).”

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