Pat Lam: 'World-class' Robbie Henshaw is going to get better and better
HOME came the hero and they flocked towards him. There was little doubting who the star attraction was at yesterday's open training session at the Sportground as the young Connacht fans set their eyes on Robbie Henshaw.
The centre of attention, the 21-year-old patiently signed autographs and posed for photos with his adoring public.
A native of Athlone, who lives, works and studies in Galway, he is spending most of his time at the moment outside Maynooth in the company of the Irish national team and this was a chance to get home for a few days.
"It's been a while since I've been back in Galway - it's good to see the (Connacht) lads and to get a run out against them," Henshaw smiled. "There was a little bit of niggle involved in it as well so it was good. It's been different coming back here and training against them."
For his provincial coach Pat Lam, this is a time to stand back and admire how well the youngster has adapted to European rugby's biggest stage.
Henshaw is just two games into his Six Nations career and is Ireland's leading ball-carrier with 22 carries for 54 metres; he has beaten five defenders, more than any other Irish player. Defensively, he's Ireland's top tackler with 31.
"Doesn't he look comfortable? He is just again getting stronger and stronger and better and better," said Lam.
"It is world class. Defensively he doesn't care who he is tackling, doesn't care who is up there, he is a beast and is there to hurt people.
"In our defensive system, too, when you have a centre partnership of him and Bundee Aki, you have got two guys who want to destroy people and that mindset is certainly a real plus. You see the skill work.
"He and Jared Payne are a great combination working well off each other. He is just going to get better and better."
Henshaw explained that he and his new centre partner Payne have been spending time with each other away from the pitch to try and develop their understanding.
"We grab a couple of coffees and Jared is a big card player as well so he's been teaching me a few card games," he said, adding that the elder statesman has left his wallet intact. "We're only playing for matchsticks!
"We've been close off the pitch and doing some video analysis together as well, we're having a look at what he thinks and what I think and trying to give valuable input.
"I had never met him before camp and in the first week we just got together and that was it, we haven't looked back since.
"He's pretty chilled, his attitude on the pitch is really good - he's always talking to you and always in your ear, and that just makes my job easier as a No 12 because I haven't played there a lot before.
"But he's outside me and is really good defensively and in attack he's really good as well, so I think I really benefit from playing with him."
The steps up in class keep coming for a young man still learning his trade in the Test arena. Last Saturday, Mathieu Bastareaud provided a new type of challenge for Henshaw, who felt he and Johnny Sexton did well in tandem against the enormous Toulon centre.
"I found the physical threat of Bastareaud tough to deal with. But I thought myself and Johnny worked well together to hold him up a couple of times and get a couple of turnovers," he said.
"We trained really well during the week and we put into place what we did and it worked out.
"I was having a chat with Darce (Gordon D'Arcy) during the week, how to approach and tackle him.
"Joe (Schmidt) mentioned that it's a two or three-man job but I think just getting up early, getting in his face early and stopping his momentum was key.
"Johnny got a very good shot at him on his first carry and we held him up and that really decided it. From there on, we didn't let him get too much ball or build up too much momentum."
Henshaw's rising status means he will be one of the most coveted players in the game, with the other provinces circling ahead of his current contract's expiry in 2016, and Lam conceded that a player of his calibre will always be in demand.
"He is no different from every other rugby player in the sense of contracts - you have options."