Robbie Henshaw believes Ireland can make a serious statement ahead of next year’s World Cup by closing out their Test series with Australia in Saturday’s series decider.

Ireland scored a 26-21 victory over the Wallabies at AAMI Park, Melbourne, last Saturday, a first success on Australian soil since 1979, sending the three-game series into a decider at Sydney’s sold-out Allianz Stadium this weekend.

A 2-1 series win in the southern hemisphere for the Six Nations champions on Saturday would see Ireland’s stock soar with a World Cup looming in Japan in autumn 2019. Henshaw said: “It would be a massive statement for us.

We’re currently ranked second in the world and we have to go out there and show the world why we’re second. We have a great chance for us to come here and create history and win a series.

“I think it’s down to us and our preparation. We showed when things went right for us at the weekend that we are a good force. Australia are going to come firing, there’s definitely going to be a massive reaction to how they went last week.

“We need to build that in camp this week, they’re going to come out hard and we have to match that.”

This tour to Australia has given plenty of Ireland players the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, not least Robbie Henshaw, who got to break bread with childhood friend and current Australian rules football rookie Ray Connellan.

Ireland’s week in Melbourne put Henshaw, 25, in the same city as 24-year-old Connellan’s St Kilda club and the two former Westmeath minor footballers caught up ahead of the second rugby Test with the Wallabies.

“Yeah, he’s off for a few days. He’s on a bye-week, so he made the most of it. He caught up with me last week as well,” said Henshaw.

“He’s happy with how he’s going, he’s with St Kilda. I go way back with Ray, we’d be family friends and I went to the same primary school as him, we grew up in the same area (Coosan), we’d be best mates.

We played minor together for Westmeath for a year and senior for Athlone.

Connellan joined the AFL Saints last year having featured for Ireland in the 2015 International Rules series, although his Westmeath teammate Henshaw did not got the offer to move Down Under.

“No, never, I never got the chance to have a look. Rugby was always there.

“But a few lads came across and made a go of it, it was great to see Ray put in the hard work, he’s a serious athlete and it’d be great to see him get some games for St Kilda. He was playing with Westmeath and was one of their standout players, to take an opportunity to go overseas and to experience a new culture, living in a new country he said ‘yeah, absolutely’.

“It was definitely worth a shot.”

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