'Exceptional' Robbie Henshaw lauded ahead of Montpellier clash
As Robbie Henshaw sprung back to his feet on the RDS turf last Sunday, following another thunderous takedown of a Glasgow man, he was praised for all of the excellent dirty work he had been doing around the pitch that afternoon.
A 'bits and pieces' man, said Sky co-commentator Stuart Barnes, referring to what many rugby sages, these days, call the 'unseen work'.
“No, far from it," answered Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey when the 'bits and pieces' assessment of the Blues centre was put to him in the build up to tomorrow's final Champions Cup pool match away to Montpellier.
"The big thing I’d say is consistency with Robbie over the last while, I think he’s been exceptional. I think if you look at the passing skills, the range of his pass has been brilliant for us, from his wide pass to his short pass.
"The unseen work, as you mention, has been crucial. The amount of work he’s done and adapting to thirteen as well. Bouncing in the defensive line, getting a width, aggressive tackles, his double effort in the tackle. He hits and gets off the ground and looks for more work. It’s exceptional!”
Since returning from the shoulder injury that brought a premature end to his Lions adventure last June the Athlone native has started 8 of the province's last 13 matches, completing 80 minutes in all but one. Music to the ears of Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt who will be hoping to see, in the upcoming Six Nations championship, the other side to his game that Dempsey waxed so lyrical about this week.
"You can see his finishing ability as well. He was on the scoresheet against Montpellier in round two and he has been over the previous weeks for us, so I think he has an all-round game. But I think overall what he's pleased with is the consistency of his performance, week-in, week-out."
Surprisingly the try that Dempsey refers too probably wasn't the big cheer the 24-year-old got at the RDS that day last October. No, that was reserved for the take down of Montpellier's giant winger Nemani Nadolo in the 57th minute after which he got up and pummeled their scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, formerly of the Ulster parish.
"He's definitely two-man job, as I've said before," chuckled Henshaw when asked if Leinster can get a better handle on the man who dotted down twice in that reverse fixture.
"You just need to stay on top of him and just not give him any space. He's an unbelievable player with such a wide skill-set. He's a really talented player. We need to do our own jobs first. We can't focus on just man-marking him and things like that. Across the board, Montpellier are a really high quality side with unbelievable players. We just need to stay connected in our defensive line and when Nadolo does have the ball, we need to make sure that we have two men on him."
Montpellier have their own worries flying at them down the Leinster wings in the shape of Jordan Larmour and James Lowe who has been thrilling to watch in the four 80 minute appearances he's made since his move to the province last November.
Henshaw explained why he thinks the exciting New Zealander has slotted into the back-line with such ease.
"I think it's just the type of player he is, he looks to get his hands on the ball and he's a really skilled player. He's a great energy in the squad and he's a great energy on the pitch and I think that shows in how he plays. So I think that's how he's just come seamlessly into the squad and he's a really good player to play off and to play with. I think he's only going to get better in the squad."
Head coach Leo Cullen has made six changes to the team that started the big win against Glasgow last Sunday with Fergus McFadden dropping out of the back three to allow the return of Rob Kearney at full back and Jordan Larmour's switch to the wing.
There's a new half-back pairing with Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne replacing Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton, who is not suffering the after-effects of the knock he took at the RDS. Cullen confirmed today that the Ireland outhalf is just being rested.
Cian Healy replaces Jack McGrath at loosehead while James Ryan and Dan Leavy replace Scott Fardy and Jordi Murphy at lock and flanker respectively.
Meanwhile 11 of the Montpellier team that started in their RDS defeat, start again at the Altrad Stadium tomorrow.
Konstantine Mikautadze replaces Jacques du Plessis in the second row. New Zealand World Cup winner Aaron Cruden plays at outhalf instead of Thomas Darmon. Francois Steyn switches from inside to outside centre allowing Jan Serfontein to come in for for Joe Tomane who moves to the bench. Timoci Nagusa is on the right wing instead of Benjamin Fall, who moves to full back in place of the benched Jesse Mogg.
The game kicks off at 13:00 Irish time with the coverage on Sky Sports Action commencing at 12:30.