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Henshaw the pride of Connacht after dominant pair of Six Nations starts

The province’s head coach, Pat Lam, shared his joy at seeing the centre shine for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.

SEVEN CAPS INTO his Ireland career and still only 21 years of age, Robbie Henshaw already has the look of a key player for Joe Schmidt.

Connacht couldn’t be prouder of the progress their exceptionally talented centre is making.

Robbie Henshaw tackles Mathieu Bastareaud Henshaw puts a solid shoulder in on France's Mathieu Bastareaud. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henshaw has been installed as a starter for Ireland in this year’s Six Nations, standing out in the victories over Italy and France in the last fortnight. The powerful midfielder topped the tackle count in both fixtures, racking up a combined 31 hits.

Aside from the numbers, the impact of those tackles has been mightily impressive. With the ball, Henshaw has been asked by Schmidt to carry directly and 54 total running metres in those busy midfield channels underlines his dynamism.

Most importantly, Henshaw has handled the mental element of stepping up from squad member to international first-choice with real ease, his communication skills highlighted by appreciative teammates like Johnny Sexton and Jared Payne.

That Henshaw is only in his third season of senior rugby with Connacht make the achievements all the more remarkable.

The Buccaneers clubman trained with Ireland against his own province at today’s open session in the Sportsground, and despite having to plot against Henshaw for a change, Connacht head coach Pat Lam was beaming when asked about the centre’s progress afterwards.

I’m extremely proud,” nodded Lam. “He just looks so comfortable out there and is looking really world-class. The thing that’s impressed me from when I first met him is his mindset around never taking a backward step, particularly defensively.

“Whether it was [Mathieu] Bastareaud or anyone coming down his channel, the big boys up front, he just loves to put his body on the line and try to destroy people. He just does not look out of place and he’s going to get better and better, go from strength to strength.

Lam is pleased that Connacht have played their role in Henshaw’s rare, rapid rise into international rugby, pointing to the excellent work of his predecessor and the fact that the western province provided the centre with an opportunity to actually play games.

“I think the big reason too, from when he started out here as an 18 or 19-year-old with Eric Elwood is the more amount of games he plays, the more comfortable he got at this level,” said Lam. “He’s had 60-odd games here, and now going into the Irish set-up.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw was the star attraction in Galway this afternoon. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He wasn’t involved much in last year’s Six Nations in terms of playing, but he was heavily involved behind the scenes. Every game he’s just going to get more comfortable and he’s going to be number one on that selection sheet.”

Perhaps most pertinently on a day when the fervour and excitement for Schmidt’s Ireland swept around Connacht’s home ground, Lam was delighted local supporters had the chance to see Henshaw with the international squad.

The Athlone man serves as an example to his teammates that Connacht players can be crucial to Ireland, but also as an inspiration to young rugby fans who may well be the future generation of the western province’s squad.

This whole day, when you consider Connacht’s vision of ‘grassroots to green shirts,’ he’s the number one guy,” explained Lam. “You also have Ireland’s mantra of ‘one team, four provinces,’  so when you add all that together it’s great.

“Part of our thing about ‘grassroots to green shirts’ is growing and promoting the game within our community. Look how many kids and families were here today wearing Ireland shirts and Connacht shirts. It’s just really pleasing.

“To hear all the ‘Robbie, Robbie, Robbie’ chants shows that, for them, he was here two or three years ago playing for Marist College and now here he is with Ireland and doing a really good job.”

Connacht will hope others can force their way through as emphatically as Henshaw has, but for now the province will continue to take sheer pride from his Ireland involvement.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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