Champions Cup: Robbie Henshaw takes inspiration from Michael Jordan after ‘rough week’

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw revealed that he rewatched the basketball documentary ‘The Last Dance’ to fire him up for the Champions Cup semi-final after struggling with illness.

Ahead of the Irish side’s clash with Toulouse, Henshaw came down with the ‘flu and barely took part in training.

The Ireland international recovered enough to start in the last-four encounter and produced a superb display to help Leinster record a 40-17 triumph.

Pretty grim

“Yeah, it was a rough week,” Henshaw told reporters.

“I was in bed on Wednesday and Thursday, I was pretty grim, just with a flu, but I got out of bed for the Captain’s Run on Friday and I felt somewhat better and then felt better on Saturday.

“I was definitely struggling for air in that game, even though I just kind of dug deep, just kept the head down and tried to get on with it the best I could. But yeah, definitely coming out of it I felt positive that I could dig deep and just go for it for the 65 minutes.

“Once I got into the game it was a bit easier but definitely at times in the game where you want that extra kick recovering wise, catching your breath, it was a small bit off, but again, it’s amazing what adrenaline can do in the heat of the moment.

“I rewatched The Last Dance again recently and it was an episode where Michael Jordan was violently ill for one of the play-off games and I had that kind of thought that it got him through, in parts he was out on his feet and then towards the end he just found a way, and that’s what I was kind of thinking of as well.”

Henshaw is back at 100 per cent and is pretty much guaranteed to start in the Champions Cup showpiece event against La Rochelle, who are led by none other than Ronan O’Gara.

The Ireland great earned 128 caps for the national team and Henshaw had a few interactions with O’Gara as the fly-half was winding down his career.

“I spent one (Ireland) camp with him,” he said.

“I was brought in to train for the last Six Nations he was involved in. I trained with him, that would have been the only time. I played against him a few times as well, down in Musgrave Park, I played against him once. Only brief encounters with him as a player.

“It was about 10 years now (since I trained with him), I’m showing my age. He was good, he was a quality player, really good on the ball, nice and calm, a nice guy as well, he would give time to the younger lads, chat away with you, ask stuff. He was sound.”

Up until the start of the new year, La Rochelle had endured a mixed campaign, but O’Gara’s men have found their form towards the latter stages of the season.

They are very much in play-off contention in the Top 14 and have produced a number of fine displays to reach the final of Europe’s top-tier competition.

Their Irish boss is very highly thought of and Henshaw knows that La Rochelle will be very difficult opponents.

“We’ll definitely have a tough task ahead of us in terms of La Rochelle being there (in the final) last year, they’ve got good experience,” he said. “They really have a good style of rugby, they’re hard to break down, they’ve a great defence, really strong at the breakdown, so it’s not going to be by any means easy for us at all.

“I think we need to play I suppose a similar style to how we’ve played all year and that’s play to where all the space is.

“We know what they’re going to do. They’re going to be aggressive off the line, they have a really good defensive system in terms of Ronan O’Gara, what he brought to Crusaders, that kind of hard up defence.

“So they give you space wide but they are quick to shut it down. Not like some teams who’ll give you the space and they’ll kind of drift to the space. Whereas La Rochelle give you the space but then shut it down from the outside in.

“It will be a tough task for us to attack them because they’ll be working hard off the line. But yeah, it will make an exciting game and one that our attack will have to be on, and if turnovers happen, we’ve seen a lot of their tries come from turnovers, so we need to make sure we’re not giving the ball away and really solid in that department.”

Despite consistently reaching the latter stages of the Champions Cup, Leinster have not claimed the title since 2018 – their only success in the past decade.

That came against Racing 92 in a real physical battle where they secured a narrow 15-12 victory.

Should the game go that way again, that may give La Rochelle a much better opportunity to take the trophy home, but Henshaw is quite happy to win ‘ugly.’

“It’s a final, we need to just do what we can to win and if it’s ugly, it’s ugly,” he added. “Whatever way the game unfolds.

“Looking back to the last time we were in the final and we came out winners (2018), it was Racing and it wasn’t the prettiest game by any means, but we got it done. It’s what we set out to do at the start of the year.”

READ MORE: Five key battles to watch ahead of the Champions Cup final between Leinster and La Rochelle


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