THEY ARE VERY excited in the Irish set-up about Robbie Henshaw.
The 19-year-old looks set to step in at fullback in the familiar surrounds of Galway’s Sportsground, on Friday, when the Wolfhounds take on England Saxons.
Henshaw made his Connacht senior debut against Cardiff Blues on 1 September and, just over four months later, Ireland’s assistant coach is raving about him.
Speaking to TheScore.ie at the Wolfhounds squad announcement this afternoon, Les Kiss says he is looking forward to seeing how the former Marist College (Athlone) player does against a decent Saxons outfit.
Kiss declared, “We’ve been really excited about his development.
“He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job.”
With no other out-and-out fullback, which is where Hendshaw would see himself, named in the squad, the teenager is the heavy favourite to start for the Wolfhounds in his home town.
“We’ve got Ian [Madigan], who can cover fullback and also fly-half,” he said. “We’ve got Paddy [Jackson] and Ian Keatley too.
“Ian actually covered 12 for us in the lead-up to the World Cup when we played Connacht and did a good job. There’s nice flexibility in around there.” He added:
I see this game as a real opportunity for players to place themselves in the shop window in terms of the Six Nations squad.”
The idea of Henshaw taking an immediate step-up to Ireland’s senior squad is unlikely but, with Simon Zebo excelling on the wing for Munster, he would certainly be dynamic cover for first-choice Rob Kearney.
Henshaw receives a Heineken Cup man-of-the-match award from Pat Maher last Friday night. (INPHO/James Crombie)
Henshaw’s coaches at Connacht have no doubts about his ability to take his Pro12 and Heineken Cup form to the international arena.
“He’s performing well week-in, week-out,” said Eric Elwood.
He had a fantastic game against Harlequins when things weren’t going our way. He showed it again [against Zebre]. He’s very comfortable at this level and I’ve no doubt that he’ll be comfortable at higher levels.”
Elwood must feel wrought to walk away at the end of this season when players like Henshaw, Dave McSharry [also included in the Wolfhounds squad] and Kieran Marmion are playing so fearlessly.
He said, “Let’s hope that they’ll be involved in the Saxons game and more. They deserve it, [Rob] is a great kid.”
Mike McCarthy may be Leinster-bound in the summer but Connacht could very easily start next season with a couple more Irish internationals alongside the names of Duffy, Muldoon, Wilkinson and Loughney.