STOOD AT JUST under 6′ 4″ and just over 100 kilos, the status of being an elite international is already a snug fit for Robbie Henshaw.

As he stands with a light strapping on his left ankle, quietly rattling off answers about the threat Wales pose he does manage to remind you that he’s only 21.

He jumped up and down on the couch alongside hie father when Ireland last won the Grand Slam.

The couch wouldn’t survive these days. Henshaw would rather replicate the experience on the field.

“It was an unbelievable day, just what every player wants to achieve in their career. And I think, looking back, it was some achievement.”

As with most of Ireland’s good days in the past 11 years, Ireland had the O’Driscoll-D’Arcy axis running the midfield. With the game’s most-capped international retired, Henshaw has found himself thrust into an all new centre partnership. And although his presence has opened the squad exit door for D’Arcy too, Henshaw credits the Wexford man as another big influence on his fast progress. 

Henshaw attempts to duck under a flying Dave Attwood tackle against England. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Gordon was really, really good to me. He was helping me along in November and he gave me a hand before the Italian and French games. His experience alone is unbelievable and he has given so much to the Irish jersey. He has had an incredible career, but he is still there with Leinster so I will be keeping in touch with him for a few tips yet.

“He taught me that you have to distribute the ball, as well as being a ball-carrying threat. He has helped me in terms of timing my run and getting my hands on the ball, getting the ball in my hands early and picking out the right option. He has offered me some good tips, and how to deal with certain situations in defence…”

House of Cards

With Jared Payne, Henshaw may never have the same affinity that existed between the Leinster duo, but the new centre from Athlone and Tauranga are making an effort to let no time go to waste – be it on the training field or just knocking about the hotel.

“I’ve never roomed with Jared but we spend quite a bit of time together,” smiles Henshaw, “going over plays and looking at video footage of opposition teams, and our own runs and things we have done in training. We spend quite a bit of time together and play quite a few card games and chat over a coffee.”

With Payne usually taking an economic approach to chatting, you could imagine the pair getting plenty of work done.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Another, more pertinent, factor the centres have in common is that neither have played in the imposing edifice that is Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, merely in its shadow at the Arms Park. No matter, Henshaw has been unfazed so far since becoming an international centre and he knows what to expect from his opposite number in red this Saturday: brute force.

“They are going to pose a massive threat for us. We’re going to have to be squeaky clean on the day, in terms of discipline, and take all the chances we get.

He added: “I think bringing in a bit of line-speed and shutting down their space  and options early in the game is what we’ll probably look to do. We’ll look to get into them early and don’t hold back.”

Henshaw starts as he means to go on.

Sexton reaching for 100% kicking capability as Ireland report full deck to take on WalesPhotos of the Irish team making a fan’s day will make up for all the money you lost on the horses