Some of Robbie Henshaw’s friends are still in college.

Others must be dragging themselves up and away from the bottom rungs of whatever career ladders they have chosen to climb.

More again will still be wondering what they want to do with their lives.

All of which puts some manner of context on the fact that Henshaw himself will be lining out for Ireland in Paris this Saturday with 31 Test caps already sewn up and an air of gathering seniority about him as he anchors his country’s midfield.

The boy has become the man.

Though still only 24, the Leinster player will be the voice of experience in his (critical) sector, regardless of whether it is his old Connacht buddy Bundee Aki or Munster’s Chris Farrell that Joe Schmidt chooses to play alongside him at the Stade de France.

“It is a really exciting feeling coming in being more of a leader,” he admits.

It’s all a long way from the days when he was being assimilated slowly into the Ireland camp under the shadow of the soon-to-retire Brian O’Driscoll. But then, four-and-a-half years of Test rugby tend to teach a man a thing or two.

“We see different pictures every time you play,” he explains.

“You are constantly learning every time you go out on the pitch. From when I started, I feel I’ve improved and gained more knowledge as I’ve progressed through my career.

“It comes down to who you play as well, and the combinations you are playing with. The game is constantly evolving. You have to constantly update your knowledge on the game.”

He still touches base with O’Driscoll for the odd pointer, as he did last summer when he prepped for his first British and Irish Lions tour by picking his old colleague’s brains on what to expect.

O’Driscoll was always generous with his time, taking Henshaw for one-to-one analysis sessions and meetings when with Ireland, but the younger man has taken a more communal, less vocal, approach in aiding the development of those alongside him.

“Robbie is a really great player to have outside,” said Jacob Stockdale. “He always has a cool head on him. He reads the game well and that’s great for a winger to have. He can put pressure on guys’ attacking on the inside so that makes my reads so much easier.

“He is a super player and a really nice guy. He passes on knowledge and experience. He’s a quiet guy, he leads by his actions rather than what he says. For a young guy coming in, seeing that is really awesome.”

Henshaw’s actions have always spoken volumes and his performances of late with club and country have chimed with the words of Les Kiss, who intimated four years ago that he could well prove to be O’Driscoll’s successor in the 13 shirt.

The emergence of the currently injured Garry Ringrose has clouded that picture but Henshaw has given lie to the perception of him as a crash-it-up inside centre these last few months with performances built on sleight of hand, intelligence, as well as raw power. On both sides of the ball.

With Farrell and Aki the chief contenders to be chaperoned by him in Paris, Ireland have come a long way from the days when O’Driscoll and D’Arcy were constantly conceding weight and height advantages to their respective numbers.

The smart money this week is on Aki.

“He has had a great year so far,” said Henshaw of the man with whom he soldiered at Connacht for two seasons.

“He is building and getting better and better. If he gets the nod, it will be great to see what he can do. He’s a great player.

"There have been different combinations, myself and Bundee and myself and Chris have trained together. It is a really competitive squad and we’re in a really good place.”

It’s a line he repeats when asked about the absences of Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan. No fuss, no melodramatics, just a quiet confidence in who they are, who they have, and what they need to do.

It was a slip from Henshaw that let Maxime Medard inside his shoulder for the game’s only try two years ago, when Ireland slipped to a 10-9 defeat — the failure on opening day in Edinburgh this time last year is another memory that needs to be erased.

“We know how hard it was last year, starting on a loss. We tried to claw it back in Scotland but left ourselves too much to do.

"We are well aware of what happened and we want to hit the ground running this year. That’s all that is in our heads at the moment.”


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