Robbie Henshaw gave credit to Irish rugby great Brian O’Driscoll for his mentoring role in helping the 21-year-old step up to the plate against South Africa and Australia in the GUINNESS Series.
What a difference twelve months can make. This time last year Robbie Henshaw had played 14 minutes as a replacement against Australia, as Joe Schmidt looked to give the versatile Connacht back some game-time in the green jersey.
Now, having filled the void left by Brian O’Driscoll at centre, Henshaw has played a key role in dismantling both South Africa and Australia. The journey was made that little bit easier by having the Irish record caps holder in his ear.
“Myself and Brian stay in contact by text and a couple of phone calls here and there. He gives me a couple of things to work on. He has a look and studies my games,” explained the Athlone native.
“He’s really helping me a lot and I have a lot of respect for him. He hasn’t been in camp, he’s just been on the phone. He has been studying the matches, having a look at them himself, giving me things to work on and telling me what I’m doing well.
“I made sure, I kinda said to him, ‘Don’t leave me now! Give me a dig-out when you go, and help me to improve’.”
Henshaw was happy to come through what was a very physical battle with the Wallabies, with Saturday’s memorable 26-23 win giving Ireland their first GUINNESS Series clean sweep since 2006.
He puts the three November victories down to the tough work put in since they came into camp with Joe Schmidt and the coaches, as well as the camps they had during the summer.
Having lost their grip on an early 17-0 lead, Ireland showed terrific belief and character to recover and tie things up at 20-all for half-time, before two second half penalties from Jonathan Sexton got them over the finish line.
Ireland held firm during a late onslaught from the Michael Hooper-led Australians, and Henshaw is unlikely to forget those final 10 minutes for a long time.
“At half-time Joe said just to keep calm, focus and win the next ball…to focus on winning every moment we can and dig in. We came in at half-time, it was a drawn game and it was good to see us win the second half. He expected us to rise to the occasion.
“We knew during the week it was going to be a physical game and that they were going to be ramped up. We knew ourselves that we had to get one back on them for last year (the 32-15 defeat) and we did that.”
The reigning Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year added: “The final 10 minutes were really tortuous. My lungs were burning a lot but to see Ian Madigan and Tommy Bowe get the turnover at the end was such a relief.
“I knew what Australia had done to us last year. That gave me a wake-up call on where I needed to be and how I had to prepare myself. It was a tough day at the office but it was good to see us get through it.”
It was not a position he had envisaged he would be in a couple of months ago despite all the talk of him replacing the retired O’Driscoll in the iconic number 13 jersey.
Henshaw had to put an incredible amount of work to get up to international standard but with Darren Cave and Jared Payne also looking to make their mark at outside centre, the competition for places can only be good for Ireland.
With the addition of the fit-again Mills Muliaina at provincial level, he hopes that too can drive him forward. He is clearly determined to keep developing with every appearance for Connacht and Ireland.
“I just focused on playing for Connacht, keeping my head down and improving. Thankfully it is paying off…I knew there was an opening there, for the (number 13) jersey, and that there were a couple of contenders for it. It was just about playing well, putting your hand up, getting in there and, now, keeping hold of it.
“It’s good to get the second game in. I’m trying to grow into it now and keep improving. I’ll keep the head down and work away down in Connacht, staying in touch with Joe and Brian and try to improve my game.
“No doubt Mils Muliaina will give me a hand (at Connacht) as well as he played a little bit of 13. I’ll have a nice team around me.
“There’s a lot of serious contenders. Darren Cave had a good game for Ulster (against the Ospreys) and Jared Payne, as you saw against South Africa, was amazing as well. There is serious competition, which will only make me want to improve even more,” added Henshaw.