Rugby

‘England will be a tougher test’ says Henshaw

Irish back Henshaw says Wales were tough to break down but England are bigger fish that Ireland need to fry

Robbie Henshaw (right) has started all three of Ireland’s matches in this year’s Six Nations
Robbie Henshaw (right) in action for Ireland Robbie Henshaw (right) has started all three of Ireland’s matches in this year’s Six Nations (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ireland will have a tougher time dispatching England on Saturday week than they did against Wales, says Robbie Henshaw.

The Irish centre praised the Wales defence and how they made it difficult for Ireland to break them down.

“Their defence was pretty good. They had that red wall in our face, they kept their wingers high and had one in the backfield,” said Henshaw, who performed well against the Welsh.

“At the breakdown, we thought they’d commit more numbers than they did to poach the ball but they actually sat off and just kept their numbers on the feet.



“As backs, we should have capitalised more on our scrum going forward, we missed a few opportunities there.

Loads to work on but hugely positive to finish strong.” Wales are undergoing a transition period under Warren Gatland and, despite the scoreline and the dominance of Ireland, still offered some resistance to the home side.

Ireland achieved a bonus point 31-7 victory against Gatland’s side, with tries from Dan Sheehan, James Lowe, Ciarán Frawley and Tadhg Beirne proving the difference against the Welsh.

They equalled the record for most consecutive wins in the Six Nations (11), held by their next opponents, England. Henshaw said: “I think it’s going to be tougher against England with the line speed they’re bringing at the moment.

“They’ll be coming harder off the line with that wall. It’s going to be a tougher test for us over there.”

Former South Africa assistant coach Felix Jones was brought in by England following last year’s World Cup
Former South Africa assistant coach Felix Jones was brought in by England following last year's World Cup Felix Jones (Mike Egerton/PA)

Ireland will see a familiar face in the England camp in Felix Jones, a former Ireland international who now plies his trade as an assistant coach.

Jones joined England from the South African national team, with whom he won two World Cups, the latest one under now-Leinster coach Jacques Nienaber.

“It’s perfect for us. We know what Felix experienced down in the South African team,” said Henshaw, who plays under Nienaber at Leinster.

“It’s good that we’ll have that bit of knowledge on what we’re coming up against.” Nienaber’s influence has bled through to the Leinster players on Ireland’s squad, of which there are 20 out of the 34-strong squad.

“From being in Jacques’ system we definitely haven’t gotten it right at times,” said Henshaw, who has scored one try in seven games for Leinster this season. “There are opportunities in attack to take and capitalise on those rushing defenders.

“The aim of the system is to create that chaos, put skills under pressure.

“For us, we’ll need to be calm, composed and be ready to take opportunities when they come.”

The question on some fans’ lips was if Henshaw’s recent performances have been a return to form or just fans getting to see what he can do more as he is getting more minutes. Henshaw said: “It’s probably the latter, getting a run of games, getting minutes.

“I’ve been lucky to get back from the World Cup, get a run of games with Leinster and just enjoy it.

“It was stop-start before that. You get form from playing rugby, so to be playing, starting, that’s where you get the best out of me.”

The centre position has been a source of strength for Ireland in recent years, with Henshaw competing with World Player of the Year finalist Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey for a starting place.

“It’s always tricky”, said Henshaw.

“That’s the nature of the game. We’re lucky to have such good talent here in this team, all the centres are top-class. “When you get the chance you have to perform and take it otherwise someone else can take it.

“I like the pressure.” In an environment where there is so much competition, players may need to adapt their game to break into the team in a different position and fill a hole where they’re needed.

McCloskey demonstrated this by coming on as a sub on the wing, despite being a centre, and other Ireland players had sub-roles in the team, as Henshaw explained.

“Our coaching staff tell us to expect anything, for all of us to make sure we know every role bar nine and 10 in the backline.

“Myself, I had to cover back three because we had 6/2. Jamison (Gibson-Park) had to cover wing as well.

“Myself and Stu were sitting down a good bit this week covering the wing position even though I’ve never played there nor has he.”

There are still some uneasy memories for Ireland at Twickenham, having lost twice to the old foes in 2019, including a 57-15 defeat.

“I think we’ve taken a lot of learnings from that game, the game against France a couple of years ago, playing in these away cauldron environments,” said Henshaw.

“As a squad, we’ve opened the floor to say what we experienced, that nervous energy and the in-your-face, big stadiums hostile crowds,” he added.

“I think for us it’s not going to be easy at all, the positive thing is we’ve been there now and taking those learnings.”

“They’ll be coming harder off the line with that wall. It’s going to be a tougher test for us over there.”