Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki at Ireland training (Image: ©INPHO/Brian Reilly-Troy)
Get all the very latest news in Ireland straight to your email every single day
Sign up!When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. OurPrivacy Noticeexplains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.Thank you for subscribingSee ourprivacy noticeInvalid Email
Old habits die hard – and thankfully in Ireland's case heading to Paris.
It is four years since Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki played central roles in Connacht's remarkable PRO14 title success and Henshaw left for Leinster immediately afterwards.
However when the duo reunite in midfield at Test level it is as if they were never apart, as was the case last Saturday when Henshaw came off the bench for the injured Garry Ringrose.
With Ringrose out of the Test picture for the rest of the year, Henshaw and Aki will start against France as both sides chase the Six Nations title.
"It's probably old habits," smiled Henshaw.
"I know what he's about and how he operates. Similar to one when I'm playing with Garry as well, I know how he works.
"The more games you play, you kinda feed off each other's traits. That's how it works.
"Bundee's just constantly driving us on and bringing that energy – which is what is needed when there's an empty stadium.
"It’s weird we’re only into the second week but the great thing is we’re playing for the trophy, there’s silverware on the line, so there’s a great buzz around the place.
"It’s the second week and it’s a final, basically.
“It’s going to be a really tough challenge but it’s really going to be good for this group and the mood is good.
"But we know we’re going to have to get our work done early in the week and then get our performance ready.
“We need to put on the best performance we can."
Henshaw in action in Ireland's win over Italy
(Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
The understanding the pair still have was evident in their display in Ireland's last Stade de France visit – that nail-biting first game of the 2018 Six Nations won by Johnny Sexton's last-gasp drop goal.
"A tough game," said Henshaw. "I remember it was a long wait around for the game in the evening.
"It was an eight o'clock kick-off – similar to what's coming this week.
“It's always challenging playing on the road, and especially in the Stade de France because it's so hard to win there first and foremost.
"France are almost like a different team when they play there.
“But yeah, just having that confidence in each other to back ourselves and not not go into our shells.
"That's definitely what we spoke about before that game – to really go after it and make sure we deliver the best performance because in these competitions, to do well, you obviously have to start well if you're to get your win on the road.
“That was obviously key to our success that year.
"That win was definitely up there with one of the hardest games we played because we were always attacking into a brick wall.
“It was very hard to break them down, but thankfully Johnny's magic at the end got us over.”
But while Henshaw and Aki have a good record when they are in tandem for Ireland, they were the starting centre pairing in the deserved loss to England at Twickenham in the last game before lockdown.
Henshaw and Aki try to stop Jonathan Joseph in the Six Nations clash earlier this year
(Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
“We didn't start well, the learning from that is, you can't give teams a two-try head start," said Henshaw.
"That's probably where we fell down.
“We left ourselves with a lot to do, but we felt pretty rock solid in the centre in that game. We felt good.“
And now a 40th start in 45 Test games beckons for the 27-year-old, after the unusual circumstance of a bench outing last weekend.
"I had that bit of experience before in the Scottish game at the start of the campaign so I had that to look back on," said Henshaw.
"Yeah, it's a different challenge in itself because you're getting ready in the warm-up, you're getting the boys ready in the warm-up and then once the game kicks off you have to be ready any minute if a back goes down you know you're on.
"It's different to what I've been used to, playing over the last few weeks with Leinster, but it's all positive from my end.
"It's great to be involved in this team, there's huge competition and everyone is pushing each other and the standard in training is really good so it's really good at the moment.
"France have improved hugely, they're moving the ball around and they're playing like – I know they have Ntamack at 10 – a Toulouse/Racing team.
"They really have upped their game and played a really nice shape in their attack at the weekend.
"Their defence as well, with Shaun Edwards there, their linespeed is quite fast and aggressive so we need to be ready for what's to come. It's definitely going to be a big step-up".