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Henshaw wants BOD's No 13 jersey

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Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw

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Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw is fast-becoming the darling of Irish rugby.

There is a level of interest and pressure weighing on the 21-year-old's shoulders that would trouble most a decade older.

It has been that way since his former Connacht coach Eric Elwood proudly exclaimed 'he will play for Ireland" at a Heineken Cup launch two years ago.

Even the experienced old head Elwood could not hide, even disguise, the impression made by the kid from Athlone.

Has he had to grow up quickly? "I think I have.

"I think Kieron Marmion is in a similar position. To have him with me - the two of us started professional rugby at the same time - is good.

"I have a lot to thank Eric Elwood for introducing me. He said 'Look, you're well able.'"

The transition from Marist College Athlone to the professional game had to be demanding.

Heck, it is a stunning step for those schooled out of the traditional nurseries, like Blackrock, Rockwell and Methodist Belfast.

DOUBTING

"I was kind of doubting myself at the start when I was only out of school and he (Elwood) gave me that confidence and so did Nigel Carolan the Academy Manager at Connacht.

"In a way, I've had to mature myself more rapidly than other people."

Previously found at full-back, Henshaw moved from twelve to thirteen in November, dovetailing between Jared Payne and Gordon D'Arcy.

The number thirteen jersey is an iconic one in these parts. Is that what he wants in the Six Nations?

"Yeah, absolutely, it is where I have been playing with Connacht and it's where I'm quite comfortable," he said."My eyes are set on it at the moment. That's my target."

The possibility of Jared Payne returning from a foot injury and the sight of Luke Fitzgerald fizzing for Leinster at outside centre means Henshaw is open to Joe Schmidt's interpretation.

"Yeah, Luke is looking really sharp at the moment and looking really good in the 13 shirt.

"Certainly there could be a combination there. I'm not sure what Joe's thinking is but I'm certainly looking forward to getting out training with him.

"It's a possibility. I don't mind playing in the 12 shirt either. It was a new experience for me but I enjoyed it against South Africa."

The rumour mill has been in full swing as a persistent underground movement builds around his possible move to Leinster in the summer or by 2016, at the latest.

"It's not too frustrating. It's people talking. I am certainly not saying anything," he said.

"I just put it behind me and I just play my rugby. It's obviously out there in the media. It's all speculation.

"At the moment, I am contracted with Connacht until next year. I just play my rugby and keep my head down and don't say much about it."

He moves between a sunny outlook on where he's going and the doubts dropped into his head by games where everything doesn't go to plan.

"You always have to stay positive. There is always a hint of doubt in some people.

"Sometimes, if you do something wrong, you doubt yourself for a second.

"Automatically, you have to put it behind you and say 'next ball.' You have to concentrate on the positives."

And they have been many. Not least at Connacht where the arrival of All Black centurion Mils Muliaina and Bundee Aki has spread out the burden of expectation along the backline.

"Yeah, I think there's more spotlights on Mils and Bundee. It takes it off myself and Kieron.

"It's great to have that experience with us. Mils has definitely brought massive experience to the team and has turned it around big time.

massive

"Having Bundee in there, he's a massive physical threat in the midfield and I'm just enjoying feeding off him."

The signing of Aki has taken the 'bulls-eye' target off Henshaw and liberated his game in that there is now more space in which to operate.

"He's quality and so explosive as well," said Henshaw.

"It seems he always breaks the first tackle which creates good go-forward ball for us wider backs outside.

"Sometimes people say the weather in Galway affects the south sea island players coming in. It's not him at all or Mils (Muliaina). They look at home.

"Bundee is that type of guy, he throws himself into anything. He is fearless."

It would seem the pieces of the jigsaw are falling nicely into place at Connacht, where Champions Cup qualification is not an unreachable goal.

"The way we're going it is a massive possibility. The middle part of the season is massive. We just need to get a result this week to separate us from the seventh position.

"We need to stay ahead of Scarlets. They're coming good, at the moment.

"We have them after the break and it's going to be a tight affair."

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