Robbie Henshaw one of three Irish players deserving of Lions Test XV 6 months ago

Robbie Henshaw one of three Irish players deserving of Lions Test XV

"The best player on the park, for me."

It was interesting to note how both Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton lit up, following Ireland's 48-10 win over Italy, when talking about Robbie Henshaw.

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While many of us were keen to talk about Will Connors, Hugo Keenan and debutants Craig Casey and Ryan Baird, the Ireland head coach and captain gushed about the 27-year-old, who won his 50th cap against the Azzurri.

"Robbie Henshaw," Farrell mused, "I don’t know what else we can say about Robbie, other than he was top class, top drawer, today.

"Some players put pressure on themselves when they reach milestones and the other players just grab the occasion by their own hands and embrace the pressure."

Eight years, this summer, on from making his Ireland debut under caretaker coach Les Kiss, Henshaw reached the milestone. Back then, we were all hoping he could be the new Brian O'Driscoll. As it turns out, he has been more of a Maggs or Henderson than an O'Driscoll. He was happy to pass on that mantle to Garry Ringrose, when he arrived on the scene, in 2016.

Injuries held Henshaw back, from 2017 to 2019, but he is currently enjoying his clearest run of it since joining Leinster from Connacht, and you can see in his rugby. He is the form Irish back this season [shading Hugo Keenan] and the form Irish player [shading Keenan and Andrew Porter] too.

Tadhg Beirne, Porter, Ringrose and Iain Henderson are all generating Lions talk, but Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong - should he stay fit - are the two Irish players best positioned for a place in Warren Gatland's Test XV. James Ryan will be too, especially if he can finish the Six Nations strong and push on with Leinster.

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Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton talk tactics. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

Following Ireland's six-try win over Italy, Sexton spoke about how he had been training at No.12 - during the week - as an extra option for the team, and coaching staff. In opening the lid on a tactic we may see more over, in the winter of Sexton's playing years, there was effusive praise for Henshaw.

"I've been training at 12 during the week at times, like I have for the first two games as well. I suppose it’s an option the coaches can have if they feel we need to open the game up a bit. I though Robbie was outstanding, best player on the park for me.

"50th cap, and sometimes when you get up to a milestone like that... I remember my 50th cap and you get a presentation and you get a bit emotional at times and it can take away from your performance. You feel a bit drained. The way that he played was just outstanding. He was the best player on the park. He deserves his rest for 15 minutes, and I don’t know how I played 80. I never play 80."

In terms of the raw numbers, Henshaw made 30 metres off 10 carries and stuck 11 of the 12 tackles he attempted. He had a turnover and an offload on his stat-sheet and was a busy man around the breakdown. All told it was your typical Henshaw game. A little bit of everything and a lot of everything else.

"He's world-class," reflected Jamison Gibson-Park, his Leinster and Ireland teammate.

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"He's just one of those guys that you love to have in your team because he's always going to give us 100% every single week. He throws his body into the tough stuff and I suppose that's what you want in a team leader. He's a brilliant team-mate, I love playing with him."

A win over Italy will only mean something if it is followed up with a win over Scotland, in two weeks. Sexton is convinced this Ireland team are building towards something, but we now need to see it against top opposition.

Farrell and his coaches will have been given a few selection head-scratchers for that Scotland game, but you would imagine Henshaw's name is already etched on the team-sheet for Edinburgh.

Start off strong and build from there.

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