From schools rugby last season to Heineken Cup fare today, Connacht full-back Robbie Henshaw has enjoyed a meteoric rise in his career.
Tomorrow Henshaw will line out against the English champions Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop — a far cry from the pitches at Marist Athlone, the school which last year he captained to its first Connacht senior schools’ cup in 35 years.
“It’s hard to believe,” said the 19-years-old.
“I have taken the big step up from schools to playing in the Heineken Cup — a dream come true.
“It is a massive step up in terms of the style of play and physicality not to mention the atmosphere at these matches but I enjoyed playing in that schools’ final just as much as playing with Connacht.”
Henshaw, whose uncle David played for Connacht in the ’90s and whose father Tony guided his progress at Buccaneers RFC, is under no illusions about the task facing his team in London.
“We know it’s going to be tough, but we have nothing to lose. We are going over there to give it our all.”
The former Irish schools’ player, who came through the Connacht under-age system under Academy manager Nigel Carolan, was given his first taste of Connacht rugby as a replacement in the 13-9 loss to Cardiff on opening day and, although he has featured in most fixtures since, it was not until injury to captain Gavin Duffy that Henshaw stepped up as the starting full-back.
Alongside Ireland U-20 scrumhalf Kieran Marmion, who has been a doubt all week with a dead leg, and centre David McSharry, Elwood has no doubts his youngsters will continue to rise to the occasion demanded by Saturday’s pool five fixture.
“They have been ever present for us this year and, if anyone has watched Kieran Marmion, Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry, the bigger the opposition, the bigger they play.
“I have no fears for Robbie. He relishes and loves playing rugby and he is playing the English champions in the Stoop — happy days for him.”
Off the field Connacht are hosting a fundraising initiative at the Stoop for Irish diaspora and businesses in England.
More than 150 tickets have already been sold for the lunch which injured players Gavin Duffy, John Muldoon and Frank Murphy will attend, in addition to former Welsh international and television pundit Scott Quinnell.
Connacht CEO says Connacht will showcase its progress and plans for the future in the hopes of attracting more investment into the province. And the dinner will also boast a special appearance by video, expected to be new coach Pat Lam from Auckland, who will be officially announced as the successor to Eric Elwood this afternoon.
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