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15th Mar 2022

Robbie Henshaw and the 14-minute cameo that was so crucial to Ireland

Patrick McCarry

With the game clock at 65:44, on he came.

Johnny Sexton had just kicked Ireland 18-15 ahead in the first bit of positive Irish news for what felt like forever. Robbie Henshaw entered the fray with the match still in the balance.

Just over 15 minutes later and Ireland had recorded their biggest ever Six Nations victory at Twickenham. It is easy to look back now, 48 hours on, and reflect that it should have always been an Ireland win, from the moment Charlie Ewels got an early red card. For any Irish supporter that watched the full game, it was hard, hard going.

Heading into Saturday’s match, many remarked on Ireland having four 2021 Lions on their bench. When the game was still up for grabs, three of those Lions – all Test starters, last summer – made big plays. Henshaw grabbed no tries or assists, but he was the pick of the bunch.

On the latest House of Rugby URC [LISTEN from 14:30 below], Greg O’Shea raved about the impact Henshaw had off the bench, and revealed a telling Twickenham conversation he had, about the centre, with Jacob Stockdale.

Robbie Henshaw

Jacob Stockdale on what makes Robbie Henshaw so good

“Robbie Henshaw was exceptional when he came on,” Greg O’Shea reflected. “The work he was getting through was unreal.”

“His acceleration into contact, and his footwork, is amazing,” said Connacht flanker Conor Oliver. “Every time he plays a game, he makes a massive difference.”

O’Shea was over at Twickenham doing some work with the BBC, and he reflected on a chat he had with Ulster and Ireland winger Jacob Stockdale about Henshaw.

“Jacob was saying that Robbie gets through such a ridiculous amount of work that the normal punter may not notice. He said he’s one of the best players in the world because he’s doing all these little things, like hitting rucks, creating spaces or chatting away and organising everyone.”

Looking back on the game, the Leinster centre had 14 involvements and was so, so key in Ireland closing out a game that was in danger of being snatched away from them.

Robbie Henshaw of Ireland takes on Elliot Daly (L) and Ben Youngs. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

How Robbie Henshaw helped Ireland see off England

Henshaw’s first involvement saw him chase a Jamison Gibson-Park box-kick up the right touchline.

Marcus Smith’s jump and catch saw him evade Conway, but Henshaw was there to make the tackle and drive the outhalf off the pitch. However, Smith was canny enough to play the ball back off Conway, and England won the lineout throw.

Robbie Henshaw

Two minutes later and, after a superb high-fielding take by Hugo Keenan, Henshaw made a few metres with a shoulder drop and cut back against the grain, before finding Tadhg Beirne in support. From that passage of play, Caelan Doris burst through and Ireland almost got over, but Conor Murray could not pouch his offload.

On 70 minutes, Henshaw fielded a goal-line drop-out from England, spun away from Elliot Daly, fended Jack Nowell and got an extra metre after being stopped by Maro Itoje. 20 seconds later, he was up and offering again, getting little change this time.

In the lead-up to Jack Conan’s try, Henshaw featured twice again. His first contribution was a carry with another inside step to evade Daly before he was stopped by Ben Youngs. 30 seconds later and his hard line [yellow arrow] drew in Nowell before Keenan, sublimely, and Garry Ringrose combined to put Conway away for a dart.

Robbie Henshaw

The Munster winger was held up, but Conan scored off a Murray pass on the next phase of play.

On the England restart, Iain Henderson make the take and Henshaw drove in behind him before securing the ruck so Murray could box-kick. At this stage, 74:22 was on the clock and Ireland had switched from hanging on to hunting for the try-scoring bonus point.

Henshaw’s next carry, in that same attack, Henshaw was forced to scramble back and cover for a loose Murray pass. He quickly assessed his options, evaded Courtney Lawes and carried hard at Joe Marler.

The England prop got caught on the wrong side of the ruck, with Jack Conan getting over him as pillar. Penalty Ireland. Henshaw had not only got his team out of a bind, he had won them a penalty and there were plenty of back slaps for it.

Robbie Henshaw

That penalty came with Ireland already 10 points clear. It would have been just in range for a shot at the sticks by Johnny Sexton, but the Ireland captain kicked for an attacking lineout. He, and his teammates, sensed the fight sapping out of England.

Rob Herring made the lineout throw, Caelan Doris caught it and the Irish rolling maul made some progress before a bulling run from James Lowe sucked in more white shirts. Henshaw rushed in cover Lowe at the ruck, while Finlay Bealham steamed in for the next carry and crashed over for the fourth try.

Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw of Ireland celebrate as Finlay Bealham scores. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

That brought us up to 78 minutes gone and the Irish victory was secured. Henshaw helped in keeping Maro Itoje at bay after Henderson claimed another restart. Murray box-kicked and England eventually won a penalty that they kicked for an attacking lineout of their own.

Jamie Blamire’s lineout was not straight, Ireland got a scrum, Andy Farrell subbed off Sexton to give him an extra few moments to soak in the victory. Murray had the honour of hoofing the ball off the pitch and it was game over. Henshaw and Bealham – two subs that made big impacts – stood together for a moment and soak it all in.

In terms of raw statistics, Henshaw made five carries for gains of 34 metres, with four of them getting his side over the gainline. That momentum impetus was crucial as it put England on the back-foot and, in turn, created gaps.

Henshaw made two passes, including one offload, and broke two tackles in his five carries. As Ireland were all about killing off the hosts, he was only required to make one defensive tackle, but he stuck that too.


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