Better late than never.
Robbie Henshaw is set to make a belated first start at the 2019 World Cup in Ireland’s final pool game against Samoa next Saturday, and for all the rumours that his tournament would be over without him even making an appearance, the centre has confirmed that was never the case.
“There were a lot of stories going around that I was flying home and I had to get surgery and stuff, but that wasn’t the case. It was a bit of a scare at the time, just a small tweak in the hammy. I had a previous injury there, that’s why there was concern over it.
“But when we had the scan, it actually wasn’t too bad, so that gave us confidence to make sure I could turn it around in a couple of weeks. If push came to shove I could have played last Thursday [against Russia], so that was a positive.”
It’s a measure of his importance to the team in the eyes of Joe Schmidt and the rest of the coaching staff that the 38-times capped, 26-year-old was given so much time, which he admitted was “good for my confidence that the lads see value in me and they have kept me here. I think I can add value to this group. I have a bit of experience on my shoulders so it is good to be here and help the lads”.
At the last World Cup a hamstring injury delayed Henshaw’s entry in the third pool game against Italy. Hamstring tweaks can reoccur and the Irish management’s patience was understandable, although Henshaw admitted: “It’s intense because you are working against the clock.
“There were a few sleepless nights, just over-thinking things – the ifs and buts. But once you see yourself improving and hitting those targets that you put down, that gives you the reassurance that you are coming good.”
Although confined to a watching brief thus far, Henshaw is on message in also describing the defeat by Japan as a "blip", adding: "That was a really tough game in really tough conditions and the last [Thursday] night was really positive.
“Again, they were very tough conditions in that stadium. We executed a few scores nicely and potentially left a few out there. The big thing I got from it is that the group is good, positive about how we are going about our week.
“We are trying things and not going into our shell. We are trying to offload and have a go. We are playing what’s on in front of us as well, which is the most important thing, so we can take a big step going forward.”
Henshaw also cites how well Ireland executed in the first 25 minutes against Scotland, when scoring tries in each of their first three visits to 22, but they have been less effective since.
“There were a couple of moments that we looked at in that [Japan] game, and one in particular in the second half when we just could have kept it a little bit tighter, and I reckon we would have broken in and got back ahead.
“These are the fine margins and you learn from them. Unfortunately in the World Cup you only get one shot at it. We executed off a planned move [against Russia] but then there were a few handling errors in the 22. Probably just a little bit of patience is what I think we need to have and a bit of calm on our shoulders.”
Henshaw went to see Samoa last Monday in tandem with Bundee Aki, and was particularly impressed with the running threat of Tim Nanai-Williams and the wingers, as well as the Pacific Islanders’ famed physicality.
“If you run straight at them, you’ll be hit and hit hard,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I know they fly into tackles. I think you have to be smart in how you play. As we saw against Scotland, Stuart Hogg was pinning the corners a nice bit, just turning them around so there could be a bit of space in the backfield. That could be a way, I suppose, to break it up a bit and just nail our basics as well. If we hold the ball and nail our breakdown we can break them down.”
Cian Healy is also set to come back into the mix against Samoa and when it was put to him that his love of collisions should be sated on Saturday, he countered: “I do like a collision, yeah, but I like avoiding collisions as well.”
Healy was on ‘scrum-cam’ duties against Russia and says Ireland are “happy enough” with their scrum to date, albeit the penalty wrongly awarded to Japan in the 35th minute had a big impact in that defeat.
“A tough call, but you get dealt them. We didn’t really bounce back from it, but I think our scrum is going pretty well. We’re putting pressure on people, we’re probably scrummaging within ourselves a little bit.
“We’re cautious of getting done for penalties against us, we do pride ourselves on that, but there’s room to let the shackles off a bit and go a bit harder because our training scrummaging sessions are horrible at times. You’re killing each other, there’s a lot of pressure and tension. Unlock that and have a go.”
It must be hard for the Irish players to insulate themselves from the negativity back home, although Healy maintains he’s managed to do so.
“I haven’t seen any negativity. I blocked or ignore anything that comes like that. So no, I’m happy, the lads are pretty happy, we got through a lot of work and we got what we wanted from the [Russian] game.”