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Henshaw Hoping To Be In Perfect Tune For Third World Cup

Henshaw Hoping To Be In Perfect Tune For Third World Cup

Robbie Henshaw, who is part of Ireland's 42-man squad preparing for the Rugby World Cup, is pictured on media day at the IRFU High Performance Centre ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

2023 is something of a milestone year for Robbie Henshaw. He turned 30 last month, a little over 10 years since making his Ireland senior debut as a teenager against the USA. This autumn he is set to play in his third Rugby World Cup.

The Athlone man wants to right the wrongs of those 2015 and 2019 World Cup quarter-final defeats. Untimely injuries meant he missed Ireland’s first games at both tournaments, so being able to hit the ground running come September is a top priority.

Henshaw played every minute of the British & Irish Lions’ 2021 Test series against South Africa, a feat he repeated when Ireland overcame New Zealand in a thrilling trio of Tests last summer.

This past season was an injury-disrupted one for him, though, with a hamstring issue and wrist surgery. He got back to play his part in March’s Grand Slam-clinching win over England, and is determined to do what it takes, both on and off the pitch, to stay fully fit.

“For me, my last two World Cups, I didn’t start the games in the first rounds, one and two. I missed them with hamstring injuries, so my goal is to be fit for round one (against Romania on September 9), hopefully, if selected,” he said.

“It’s massive, even our strength & conditioning coaches are highlighting a big thing is the importance of recovery and having time away. Even switching your head off from rugby and overthinking things.

“That can feed into loss of sleep, anxiety, things like that which can contribute to injuries. Studies have been done on it which is very interesting, how stress-related injuries can happen.

“It’s interesting, the week my grandmother (Bridie) passed away before the Toulouse game, I picked up a quad injury out of nowhere on the Monday in Leinster. They reckon that was a stress-related injury.”

Stressful situations are unavoidable in a modern world that can sometimes seem relentless, but Henshaw does his best to surround himself with good people – including his fiancée Sophie, close family, friends and team-mates – and make the time to switch off from being a professional athlete.

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Whether that means going for a coffee, playing some music or walking the couple’s dog, a black Labrador called Luna. Coming from a renowned family of talented musicians, the Leinster centre is always good for a tune.

When award-winning violinist Greg Harrington paid a special visit to the Ireland camp last week, team manager Mick Kearney managed to coax Henshaw up on stage to play the accordion, alongside Harrington and two accompanying cellists.

He was admittedly a little rusty but thoroughly enjoyed the experience of what was a ‘fantastic set’, according to Harrington. Having played and recorded with Sharon Shannon, it was a personal highlight to perform her song, ‘Blackbird’, on the night.

“After Mick begging me, I eventually agreed and we had a bit of craic. He had a string quartet with him as well, so he had two cellos with him. They put something nice together,” explained Henshaw.

“It sounded good thankfully, I didn’t get laughed at or booed! I have to play more, I left the accordion down for a while but I’ve taken it back up now so I’ll have to continue.”

The hard work they have been putting in over the last month at the IRFU High Performance Centre will hopefully have Andy Farrell’s men primed to challenge for the Webb Ellis Cup across the months of September and October.

As Iain Henderson mentioned last week, Farrell’s pre-World Cup training regime have been about a lot more than just reps in the gym and fitness drills on the field. There is plenty of ball-in-hand time too, and the players have definitely enjoyed the progressive feel to the sessions.

Giving his own take, Henshaw commented: “It’s been good, it’s been different. It’s a good group and straight into rugby whereas, in the past, it would have been more traditional ‘get your fitness up’ and do different things.

But, from day one, we’ve been straight in with the ball in your hand which is good, and a clear plan in terms of what we want to achieve and how we want to go about it.

“We’ve just been building every week and mainly enjoying it, enjoying the pain. It’s always good to test yourself.

“You’ve got these windows to push yourself in the gym and see your gains week in, week out, and try to get yourself in the best possible nick.

“Pre-seasons are tough, but they’re very enjoyable when you can see the progress that you’re making over a few weeks.”

The two-time Grand Slam winner has not played since Leinster’s gut-wrenching second successive Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle in May.

It was admittedly a result that took some time to get over but, with regards to Ireland, he believes they can take the lessons from what went wrong that day and put them to good use against similar opposition at the World Cup.

“I think speaking in here to coaches and getting other people’s feedback is good, opinions on what went well and what we could have done better,” he said, referencing the Champions Cup final loss at IRFU HQ.

“You could have something similar in the World Cup when you get into the knockout stages, so it’s taking that bit of learning from those fine margins towards the end of the game.

“One, how you manage the game, and two, our exits in that game weren’t good enough in the second half and gave the team easy access into our half.

“We kind of got strangled down the end of the pitch for a long time, similar to the year before. It’s learning from that, cutting out those simple errors we failed to execute when usually we would.

“It will be similar come France or come even South Africa in a World Cup. It’s probably good that we’ve experienced that coming into what’s around the corner.”