‘It’s special. There’s no other feeling like playing in a World Cup for your country’

DUBLIN MAY BE home now, and Leinster his province, but Robbie Henshaw will always receive a warm welcome around these parts. The Sportsground and Connacht have played huge parts in his life and rugby career.

“It’s good to be back,” the Athlone man smiles, following Ireland’s squad workout yesterday morning. “Great training, great weather and a great week here, so a nice bit of work done this week and great to see some old faces and old friends here.”

Robbie Henshaw at Connacht’s Sportsground yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Henshaw’s face stood out more than most, given one Connacht supporter came prepared and brought a giant cut-out of both the centre and Jack Carty to leave no doubt as to who remains the fans’ favourites out west.

It may only be four years since Henshaw left Connacht as a Pro12 winner, but indeed a lot has changed here, and the same can be said about the 26-year-old as a player. Now with 37 international caps, he is gearing up for his second World Cup.

“I think the growth in the region has taken a big step forward, and even the growth here in the club — the changing rooms are completely different, the gym, there’s a lot of different things that have happened since I was here four years ago,” he says looking around.

“It’s great to see them [Connacht] taking big steps forward and growing as a region.”

As for the session, there was no hiding place for Henshaw and the players as they were made to work up a sweat to conclude their third week of World Cup preparations, with the onus on incorporating rugby drills into strength and conditioning circuits.

It all made for an intense 60-minute hitout for the squad as the clock continues to tick down towards Japan and that first game against Scotland on 22 September. While that is what they’re ultimately building for, Ireland have narrowed the focus considerably.

“We were worked hard today, it’s kind of like our competition day we call it. So yeah, it’s great to be out and about and playing against each other. It was a tough session but a really enjoyable session. It was great to have the supporters here cheering us on.

“It’s been kind of building blocks. Starting the foundation of our fitness and our strength work. But it’s also been really enjoyable, it’s been tough, but it’s been really enjoyable.

“We’ve done some out of the environment activities — we were up in Killary Harbour during the week doing an assault course and a bit of paddleboarding. It’s little things like that, that keeps us tight as a squad, and just keep the environment really happy and healthy.”

Henshaw in Ireland’s new alternate kit. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Although Schmidt and his management have strived to strike that balance between hard work and keeping the players mentally and physically fresh, they will go into their fourth block of training next week, 70 days out from that Scotland showdown.

It all amounts to a long summer and build-up in camp, with the primary task on ensuring Ireland go into the global tournament in optimum condition and then hit their performance peak at the right time. 

They will at least get the opportunity to change their tack in the coming weeks as the warm-up games appear on the horizon, starting with Italy in Dublin on 10 August, while Schmidt is also bringing the players to Portugal for a training camp.

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“The amount of groundwork you have to put in, you can’t really gloss over things you have to make sure you nail every little detail,” Henshaw continues.

“So that’s a big focus for us. We work hard and we work smart. That’s going to be a big focus for us over these few weeks. And then we have the rugby coming in August, so we’ll gradually build into it.

“Generally as a player when you’re preparing in pre-season camp you’re not preparing for a game until September. If you’re involved in the Irish summer tour you’re not involved until kind of the third or fourth game.

For Henshaw, now an indispensable cog in Schmidt’s wheel, this will be his second taste of World Cup rugby, having started three games during Ireland’s campaign in 2015.

He has not only grown and evolved as a player, but his role within the team — both in attack and defence — cannot be underestimated, as evidenced at times during his absence during the Six Nations.

Thankfully, Henshaw is now completely over the dead leg problem that caused so much frustration over the second half of last season, but having come back in for Leinster’s run-in, he is now fully fit and primed for the months ahead.

“Staying fit and staying healthy for this World Cup is the key for me,” he says. 

“The World Cup yeah, it’s a special, a special feeling being involved in it. There’s no other feeling than playing in a World Cup for your country.

“Firstly, it’s a big goal of mine to get back playing. It was a bit of a frustrating year last year in green for me, but the knocks and the bruises come with the sport. But I was delighted to finish off the season on a high with some silverware with Leinster so that was a positive. And it’s kind of kicked me into gear for pre-season now and I’m confident just to keep going and keep pushing on now, and hopefully get back into a green shirt.”

Italy on the second week of August will provide that opportunity, the day Ireland’s World Cup journey moves up a gear.

“We’re just building confidence,” Henshaw adds. “Getting better as a group, you know there are definitely areas in the Six Nations that we could have been better. I know I wasn’t involved in four of those games, but I just think the way we started games was probably a big focus — just to ensure we started those games well.

“So that’ll be one of the big focuses for us. And just getting tighter as a group and look at building confidence. We know it’s going to be a long campaign so we’re going to be with each other for a long time. So we need to just keep growing as a squad.”

Canterbury and the IRFU have today unveiled the new Irish Rugby World Cup 2019 team and supporter range. Headlined by a jersey like no other incorporating advanced technology and cutting-edge design, the range will be worn by the Ireland Rugby team in Japan as the team competes on the world stage. The new Ireland Rugby World Cup 2019 range is available from shop.irishrugby.ie and canterbury.com. 

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