Robbie Henshaw is gearing up for another “onslaught” from the All Blacks ahead of next month’s 10-match series in New Zealand.
The Leinster centre felt the full force of the Kiwis’ physicality when he was knocked out by a brutal high tackle from Sam Cane in the 10th minute of Ireland’s 21-9 defeat in Dublin last November.
Cane’s high shot was just one of many brutal incidents during that revenge mission at the Aviva Stadium.
Steve Hansen’s men were wounded after that unforgettable Irish triumph in Chicago and brought a bare-knuckle approach to the ensuing rematch on Irish soil.
It was a stark reminder of the ruthless streak that bubbles beneath the surface of this stylish All Blacks outfit.
Henshaw will face the men in black once more this summer. Now a Lion, he is primed and ready for the challenges ahead.
“The first game I played in we got that historic win but the second one didn’t go so well for me,” Henshaw recalled.
“We tried to prime ourselves for what was to come (in the second game) and the onslaught as they were hurting from the first game when we beat them in Chicago. It’s going to be similar down there and we need to try our best to get off to a great start and do the business on them.
“There’s a lot of work to be done before then. Mentally we need to be prepared, it’ll be a mental battle down there.”
Warren Gatland’s squad will face challenges at every turn in New Zealand. None more so than the haka. Ireland’s challenge to the maori ceremonial war dance at Soldier Field will live long in the memory.
The Athlone man formed just one piece of that figure of eight, in memory of Anthony Foley, which stared down the Kapa o Pango before kick-off.
It was a spine-tingling moment and set the tone for a historic victory. Along with the All Blacks and Maori challenges, three Super Rugby sides, the Blues, Crusaders and the Chiefs, will perform their own versions of the haka prior to the clashes with the Lions.
It promises to add another layer of culture and intrigue to what is shaping up to be a fascinating tour.
“It will benefit us in some ways that we are exposed to the haka and tradition,” the 23-year-old explained.
“It’ll only help us get ready for what’s to come. When you run out on to the pitch, we’re ready to go straight into the game for kick-off but you have to stand and wait for it to happen so it could be a couple of minutes.
“You’re not moving around, so we’ll be exposed to that and we’ll be used to it come the first Test. It builds up a lot more excitement when they do their haka and it gets them on the edge of their seat.”
A gruelling task lies ahead for Henshaw and Co. All five of the country’s high-flying Super Rugby franchises will provide stern examinations not to mention a fired-up Maori outift.
Gatland’s battered and bruised squad will then have to take on the All Blacks twice at Eden Park; a fortress where the home side have not tasted defeat since 1994. Wellington will host the second instalment of the Test series. New Zealand have not lost at that venue since 2003.
There will be nowhere to hide, but Henshaw has never been found wanting.
“Rugby is their baby and it’s going to be hostile. We’re going to be well primed for what’s going to come. Before the first Test there are a good few warm-up games so it’ll be a good primer for the first Test.
“Hopefully there’s not too much niggle but it’s all part of it. On their side of the ball, it’s a great opportunity for those guys to play against a quality outfit like us. To have that bit of niggle in rugby is needed and it gets both teams going.
“Me personally, I do like a bit of niggle in the game and it makes it more exciting to be involved in. The higher the physicality, the better for me.” No doubt about that.
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