The pair established a productive partnership in Connacht’s midfield before Henshaw made the switch to Dublin and they may well wear green together again in the near future now that the Kiwi qualifies for Ireland under the residency regulations.
Richie McCaw was quoted last year saying that Aki should be asked home to make a run for the All Blacks but the 27-year-old has since committed to Ireland after some careful consideration and he was part of Joe Schmidt’s early-season squad gathering recently.
“It’s a bit down the road, but listen, it’s great to have him in there,” said Henshaw. “I know he was always kind of humming and hawing about what he was going to do and he was unsure, but I think he’s really settled now.
Henshaw described a “world-class” player: A good communicator with a wide breadth of rugby knowledge, a bash-it-up runner and a distributor who could put others into space with an offload that will offer Ireland a rare X-factor.
And he agrees that the Kiwis erred in allowing him leave.
“Yeah, they probably did. I know there was a bit of stir back there and Richie McCaw mentioned that they let him go a bit easily. Comparing him to the other centres back there, he’s well able to punch above his weight.”
Henshaw got to see the wares New Zealand still have on the shelf during the summer when he featured for the British and Irish Lions. A torn pectoral muscle ultimately cut his tour short but the experience was nonetheless a hugely positive one.
He hadn’t landed 24 hours before undergoing the operation and the rehab has ticked every box as planned. He should feature next Friday week when Leinster host Edinburgh at the RDS and believes the province’s fans will see a new and improved player.
He was unlucky in New Zealand in a way. Not just with the injury but for the fact that he was afforded limited opportunity to impress with players who were always likely to play a key role come the three tests against the world champions.
Ben Te’o was more fortunate in that sense and Henshaw doesn’t see that the former Leinster centre and England international brought anything to the party that he wasn’t capable of offering himself.
“I’ll go on being Robbie Henshaw and I’ll do what I usually do: Play how my coach wants me to play. I can vary my game. I can be a crash-ball runner if you want me to. I can be a distributor if you want me to and I have a variety of kicking that I can use as well.
“I loved how Ben played. He has great footwork and he’s a great player. The way it fell, he had really good performances and he played a lot with Johnny and Owen Farrell, whereas I was playing with Dan Biggar a good bit.” Not to mention Greig Laidlaw.
Meanwhile, Leinster coach Leo Cullen is working off a reduced hand ahead of the team’s meeting with the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this evening with Luke McGrath (arm), Fergus McFadden (hamstring) and James Ryan (foot) all ruled out.
Flanker Caelan Doris has been flown out as cover and the side today inevitably shows a number of changes from the 15 that easily accounted for the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth last Saturday.
Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park are both included having missed the first game of the tour with visa issues. So is Cian Healy who was asked to leave a flight to Cape Town this week in a misunderstanding over the use of a laptop.
S Petersen; R Specman, F Venter, W Small-Smith, M Mapimpi; E Stapelberg, T Meyer; C Marais, T van Jaarsveld, T Botha; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, O Mohoje.
J Carbery; D Kearney, N Reid, I Nacewa, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, J Tracy, M Bent; R Molony, M Kearney; J Murphy, J van der Flier, J Conan.
M Adamson (SRU).