Henshaw braced for big test
HE IS the teenage sensation who Eric Elwood has tipped will play for Ireland but Robbie Henshaw, the latest exciting back to come off the Connacht academy conveyor belt, is taking it all in his stride.
Six months ago he captained his school, Marist College in Athlone, to their first Connacht senior cup success in 35 years, but now he is gracing the Heineken Cup. And looking perfectly at home.
The 19-year old is quick to acknowledge his rise has been rapid. “It is massive progress. Compared to schools rugby, the big jump up to professional is insane. But I am glad to get the opportunity,” said Henshaw, who caught the eye on his Connacht debut in a pre-season friendly against Exeter.
Elwood was gushing afterwards in his praise for the young lad who has played for the Westmeath minor footballers for the past two years, and Henshaw made his debut as sub in the centre for Eoin Griffen after 62 minutes of the opening RaboDirect PRO12 game at home to Cardiff.
He came off the bench in the next two matches and did enough to nail down his first start in their fourth game against Glasgow, but it was an injury to skipper and full-back Gavin Duffy after 28 minutes that evening which really opened the window of opportunity for the Athlone teenager.
Elwood switched Henshaw to full-back and while they lost that night in Glasgow, the performance from the first year academy player was superb and he has remained there since, making his Heineken Cup debut against Zebre at the weekend.
Now he is looking forward to playing in front of a full house against Harlequins on Saturday six months after leading his school to victory on the same pitch.
“I don’t know how it happened. I think it was a bit of luck. It has been fantastic. My ambitions were to try and get into the academy, that’s what I wanted. I was delighted with that.
“But then I got on the bench against Exeter. Eric had a few injuries and a few of us in the academy got lucky to get on the bench. I got off the bench in the second half and played well and enjoyed it. It was the same against Harlequins, we had a few injuries and I took my chance.
“Eric is a great coach and he was willing to give us a chance,” said the Buccaneers clubman.
Henshaw also paid great credit to academy manager Nigel Carolan, who has scoured the province looking for young talent and who has produced players such as Tiernan O’Halloran and Eoin Griffin in the backs, and Denis Buckley and Eoin McKeown up front, who have gone straight into the Connacht side in the past couple of years.