Ireland centre Jared Payne has backed midfield partner Robbie Henshaw to become a rugby superstar following his star turn in the historic victory over New Zealand, writes Simon Lewis.
Henshaw, 23, grabbed the 77th minute try in Chicago that put a scintillating Test match beyond the world champions 10 days ago and gave Ireland their first victory over the All Blacks in 29 attempts going back to 1905.
The try, converted by Henshaw's Leinster team-mate Joey Carbery, gave Ireland the 40-29 win and capped a magnificent individual performance from the inside centre that defensive captain and fellow midfielder Payne enjoyed as much as beating his native New Zealanders.
“I think he's getting better and better, the way he conducts himself off the pitch now, he's become more of a leader than when he first started out,” said Payne, who made his Ireland debut alongside the already capped Henshaw in November 2014 having qualified through residency.
“He backs himself a lot more now. He's got the physical attributes to become a superstar, and the more confidence he gets in himself off the pitch and the more he starts to lead people it's going to come out more in his game, and I think you're slowly starting to see that.
“And hopefully that continues, because when you've got someone playing that well beside you it's pretty easy almost to just jump on a free ride off him.”
Payne's view of Henshaw, who earned the first of his 23 caps to date against the United States in June 2013, was endorsed by Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy, who added: “He's really grown over the past couple of years. It's three years since he was in training with us and was in the panel, played against Australia (in November 2013), but didn't feature in that (2014) Six Nations.
“So he was in learning off the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy. Those players gave him the best possible start, but it's now the other way around he's working with the like of Garry Ringrose and Niyi Adeolokun and he's bringing those guys through.
“He's really stepped up, he's a big presence in the middle of the park for us and we're really happy with where he's going. His versatility is a great advantage to us, he can play 12, 13 and if you wanted to put him at 15 you could do that too. He's a really good man to have in the squad.”
Murphy agreed that Henshaw's growing stature also allows Ireland's gameplan to evolve alongside the centre.
“He's a quality passer off both hands. From 12 having the ability to rip that ball when it's needed is a big advantage.A lot of people will think of him as a strong man who carries a lot of ball, but there's a lot more to his game than that.
“Over the last few years, he's been used in very different ways and it shows his ability to fit in to those gameplans.”