Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Robbie Henshaw the pupil has Brian O'Driscoll for his teacher

Hands on: Robbie Henshaw with Brian O'Driscoll at Ireland's training camp where the young Connacht centre has learned much

Two years ago, Marist College, trying to win the Connacht Schools' Cup for the first time in over three decades, used to protect their star player by naming him in one position and starting him elsewhere.

Most had heard of Robert Henshaw but few knew him, and usually by the time the opposition worked out the ploy, the damage was done.

He slipped in under the radar with Connacht as well and just six months after captaining the Athlone school to victory he was playing Heineken Cup rugby.

However, any notions of anonymously easing into Test rugby are long gone, not least as Henshaw was the player most frequently suggested in recent weeks by Brian O'Driscoll as his most likely successor.

If there is pressure, then it is as well disguised, as he was when his school coaches kept him under wraps.

"You can't really think too much about it," he said. "You just have to keep developing your rugby and just keep putting on good performances on the pitch and show what you're capable of doing.

"But Brian has spoken great words about me and I'm delighted that he has looked at me as a future 13. But I have to just focus on playing more in the position, playing well in the position, and learning.

"I learned a lot up in camp with him, it was invaluable the experience I got off him, just focusing on developing more as a 13."

Most of his 42 caps for Connacht have been at full-back. At a push, he reckons he could fill any of the back positions bar scrum-half, but he is widely seen as O'Driscoll's heir apparent.

"He (Brian) has taken one-to-one analysis sessions with me and he has had one-to-one meetings with me on what he's seen me do and the things I can work on.

"It's really one-to-one coaching, which was great for me," said Henshaw.

"Even just being around camp and watching him play, you pick up lots of things."

Henshaw made his full Ireland debut against USA last June, at the end of his first professional season, and picked up a second cap a week later off the bench against Canada.

Henshaw has been in the Irish squad since then but his only action was 14 minutes as a substitute against Australia.

He didn't get any game time in the Six Nations but his inclusion in the photographs from the victorious dressing-room in Paris showed just how close he is, and being in camp for the tournament was a learning experience.

"It was a massive eye-opener with a new coach in and a new kind of a game plan," he said.

"The attention to detail was unbelievable.

"It was great and it just showed the attention to detail and how we won the Six Nations up there (in Carton House)."

Rugby for the next few months will be with Connacht but his big moment could come in June when Ireland head to Argentina for the start of the post-O'Driscoll era.

It will be the first real opportunity Schmidt gets to widen the circle and with South Africa and Australia coming here in November, perhaps the best chance to get his new No 13 in place.

Henshaw knows there are others in contention and that there won't be many opportunities to prove that he can be the chosen one.

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