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Kiss: Robbie Henshaw has every chance of becoming Ireland’s future 13

The Australian believes the 20-year-old’s versatility could ensure him a spot on the bench for the November Series.

Robbie Henshaw has already featured once for Ireland at outside centre.
Robbie Henshaw has already featured once for Ireland at outside centre.
Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

ROBBIE HENSHAW WAS happy to let Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip take the bulk of the media questioning today but he may soon be centre stage for his country.

The Connacht back has been ‘swapping in and out’ of the Irish backline with Brian O’Driscoll during the two-day training camp at Carton House. Having starred as fullback last season, the 20-year-old is getting a provincial run at 13.

He made a couple of midfield bursts, and beavered O’Driscoll-style into the breakdown, against Ulster at the weekend and may find himself fast-tracked into the role during the November Series. Head coach Joe Schmidt admitted this afternoon that it would be highly unlikely for him to select the same 23 players for Ireland’s three November Tests.

While Schmidt argued that every Test match ‘is a cup final’, he will need to vet candidates for the outside centre role Brian O’Driscoll insists he is vacating at the end of the season. Henshaw made his Ireland debut, against the USA, at fullback but his second appearance [Canada] was in the position Brian O’Driscoll has dominated ever since his Test debut in 1999.

imageKiss believes Henshaw has been playing very well in the 13 jumper. INPHO/James Crombie

Ireland’s backs coach, Les Kiss has been most impressed with Henshaw ever since he was called up to the senior squad. He told TheScore.ie: “We had him away in the summer and in the camps during the Six Nations. The edge is there. He certainly offers something for a young guy but has a lot to learn, too.

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“He’s been impressive. For him to play 15 and 13 — and getting a couple of runs at 13 is very good. Knowing that he can cover those two positions, at the level he’s playing at now, certainly augurs well for us. It makes it harder on selection [for others] as you know you’ve a young guy that can cover a few positions. But you want pressure and competitiveness in the squad.” Kiss added:

If he keeps putting his hand up and playing the way he is at the moment, which I think is very well, in the 13 jumper, then that’s good for us. Is he the future there? Only he’ll tell us that when he plays.”

Henshaw, a handy 13 in his not too distant school-days at Marist College, told TheScore.ie he is happy to cover both positions for club and country. “Versatility is key in being a back,” he said, “so I like playing to two positions, so I’m not really sticking to one. Further down the line, I’ll settle into one.” He added:

I wasn’t too concerned about moving to 13, because I played there in school But I try to take tips and look at what Brian does as well as some other 13s around the world and stay focused on the task.”

Henshaw was ‘on the couch with my Dad, fist-pumping the air celebrating’ when O’Driscoll raced in his astonishing hat-trick of tries against France in 2000. The Leinster man, he added, had been invaluable for tips and positioning advice during the Irish get-together.

“It is a challenge to go out and train with people you’ve looked up to since you were a young kid,” Henshaw commented. “I just try to keep focused, keep my head down and get on with the task.”

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Patrick McCarry

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