Following on from a dream November Series, Robbie Henshaw’s name-tag has changed from a ”future star” to a ”present star”. Is the stage set for the Buccaneers man to continue his meteoric rise in this year’s RBS Six Nations?
The Athlone man will start at inside centre this Saturday in Rome, partnering Jared Payne in Ireland’s midfield. Ahead of the World Cup in September, Joe Schmidt now sees Henshaw as one of Ireland’s key players.
Henshaw covered as 24th man throughout the successful Six Nations campaign last year, and gained valuable experience from his involvement in training and match-day set-ups under the influence of Brian O’Driscoll.
The Connacht man whose reputation has risen significantly since he starred at both inside and outside centre in November, will be challenged with more frequent high-intensity games this Spring.
Unlike the D’Arcy and O’Driscoll era, Henshaw offers a significant physical presence in Ireland’s defensive line.
With rugby evolving, and the physicality increasing rapidly, Henshaw fits modern rugby’s mould perfectly. Standing at 6ft 3 inches and weiging in at just over 16 stone, he has the build of a perfect modern centre.
He illustrated his game-management and intelligence, with a perfectly judged kick to the corner against the Springboks and Schmidt will look to Henshaw to deliver the same throughout this campaign in both attack and defence.
He is no longer a star of the future and will obviously be targeted by the opposition on all fronts this Spring. After standing up to the ‘Boks and the Wallabies at the Aviva Stadium, teams ranked 2nd and 5th in the world respectively, Henshaw should hold no fear.
Henshaw has been asked to start at first centre this Saturday at the Stadio Olimpico but one would have to presume that he will interchange with his centre-partner, Payne, during the course of the battle with the Italians.
His physical presence and tackling capabilities make him a perfect 12 while his pace, passing and flare make him a top-class 13. Supporters may fear that it’s best if Schmidt designates a specific position to Henshaw.
However, in Joe Schmidt, the nation trusts and the fact that Henshaw is likely to gain experience at both first and second centre will only nurture the young man’s developement and prepare him for the World Cup, which is a mere seven months away.
With an exciting year ahead for Ireland with the World Cup and Six Nations, Schmidt and Henshaw will be pivotal if Ireland are to achieve what the country expects.
Being the centre of attention, however, is something that the 21-year-old will relish and thrive under and this writer predicts that he will be key to Ireland’s defence of their Six Nations crown.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena