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09th Nov 2014

Robbie Henshaw loves big hits and he cannot lie

The Connacht back will be hoping for an extended run in the green jersey after Saturday's memorable victory

Patrick McCarry

After helping Ireland to a 29-15 over South Africa last night, Robbie Henshaw admitted facing up to enormous Springboks was quite the step-up from playing schools rugby.

Henshaw started his first game for Ireland at inside centre on Saturday and acquitted himself well in an excellent victory against the world’s second-ranked side. He fell off a couple of tackles early in the piece but grew into his role as the game progressed, making telling contributions with a double-team hit that forced a Springbok knock-on and a clever kick that forced the attacking Irish line-out, from which Rhys Ruddock barrelled over for Ireland’s first try.

‘I’ve a few little things to work on,’ Henshaw said, ‘but overall I learned a lot and was quite happy out there.’ The 21-year-old played 40 minutes at inside centre for Connacht this season and previously featured there, once, for his secondary school team at Marist College, Athlone. Taking on a gargantuan Springbok side had the potential to be a culture-shock.

‘It was a massive step-up,’ he admitted. ‘I don’t think I’ve hit bigger fellas in my life. I was quite shocked by the size of them but got used to it after a couple of hits. Physicality is a big part of the game and I like that aspect as well. I love a big hit.’

Henshaw paid credit to predecessor Gordon D’Arcy, who offered him advice in training mid-week, Johnny Sexton and Jared Payne for helping him settle into the game. ‘You just have to focus on your role and your responsibilities within the team, doing what you can do and winning the moment every time,’ he said.

Henshaw certainly won the moment with his perfectly executed kick, deep into the Springbok 22, moments before Ruddock crashed over for his score. ‘I gave Johnny a call and said “Hit me wide”. It was a spur of the moment thing. I was going to run it initially then saw there was a little bit of space in behind. I kicked through it – put my head down and got through – I got the bounce, it didn’t go too far and [South African full-back Willie] le Roux just chipped it out. It was good,’ he deadpanned.

Rhys Ruddock celebrates his try with Peter O'Mahony 8/11/2014

The Athlone native admits he under-performed in last year’s Guinness Series but was determined history would not be repeated. ‘I came off the bench against Australia last year and it was a shock to the system, the speed of the game and how physical they were. I really didn’t let it slip this year coming into this November and knew I’d be ready for a start or to come off the bench. I really got myself together mentally and prepared myself well.’

Henshaw added: ‘It is a really good start but I’m not overall happy with it. I can still improve. I’m not going to settle for that. I need to improve and will strive to improve – keep working away, keep training away – that’s my goal.’

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