Dimestore wisdom says it’s better to be talked about than not, but the dwindling levels of chatter about Robbie Henshaw this last few weeks is testament to the seamless manner in which the youngster has slotted in to Joe Schmidt’s midfield.
Yes, Henshaw has been discussed, but no more than any of the other fascinating issues surrounding Schmidt’s project. The focus on who he is succeeding in Ireland’s midfield has waned and mention of The Great One’s name rationed more and more as the weeks wore on.
Henshaw had just a pair of appearances against the USA and Canada, and 14 minutes against Australia this time last year, under his belt before lining out against South Africa and the Wallabies this month.
That shouldn’t be forgotten. He made the step up to fully-fledged international without the benefit of the stepping stone that is the Rugby Champions Cup and he got on about his business, both at inside and outside centre, against some of the world’s best midfielders.
Not a bad months’s work.
“I’d need a week anyway to reflect and have a look at what I did, but I’m pretty happy with it and it just shows that when there is an opportunity given to you have to take it with two hands,” he explained. “When I went in at 12 (against South Africa) I didn’t think anything of it except let’s go to work and do what I do and play the game. Keep going, stay positive and keep doing things well.”
Schmidt’s heavy reliance on the aerial route in attack hasn’t allowed Henshaw all that much scope to display his abilities with ball in hand, but he has carried his knack of ekeing out an extra yard or two after contact into the Test arena.
For the most part, though, it is defensive boxes he has been ticking and the questions posed by opponents of the calibre of Jan Serfontein, Jean De Villiers, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale all required concrete answers
“It was pretty hectic,” he said about Saturday. “It was a very fast-paced game, the fastest game I’ve played this year. I don’t know if they targeted me, but they certainly made me make a lot of decisions in the game and I don’t think I made too many errors. I stayed connected with Gordon D’Arcy and my wingers and took them down pretty well. They didn’t look like breaking us. We scrambled in defence fairly well and the work we did during the week worked. Les Kiss was really good for us there.”
Brian O’Driscoll has been good for him, too.
Henshaw spoke after the Springboks game about the text the retired centre had sent to him beforehand and he talked again two days ago about the lengths O’Driscoll went to ensure that the man dubbed his heir apparent would be ready to fill his shoes.
Whatever they worked on, it has paid dividends so far. The potential was always there, but Jonathan Sexton spoke last week about the enormous strides he had seen in Henshaw’s game this last 12 months. He has grown up fast. He had to.
“There’s a number of things there. Mainly what Connacht is doing and the work that Brian O’Driscoll had done with me last year,” Henshaw explained. “He really took me under his wing and he really helped me out in terms of getting better and getting better in defence in terms of good reads and doing better in attack as well. It’s a combination of that and obviously Joe is unbelievable.”
He returns to the day job now and to the prospect of further progression. Connacht are up to fifth in the Guinness PRO12 after Friday’s 43-3 defeat of Zebre at the Sportsground and Mils Muliaina made his first appearance for the province.
Bundee Aki, too, was making his home bow. Exciting times.
“I was watching the game (Friday) night and the boys looked sharp as well. It’s good to see Bundee and Mils playing and I can only get better now. Hopefully I’ll be an addition to the squad when I go back.”
Count on that.
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