Iain Henderson’s “magical feet” will allow him to unlock as well as bulldoze international defences, according to Jamie Heaslip.
Ulster back-five forward Henderson slots in for hamstring injury victim Peter O’Mahony for Ireland’s penultimate RBS 6 Nations clash, against Italy in Dublin.
The 22-year-old will make his first Six Nations start, with Ireland as well as UIster bosses yet to work out his strongest position.
The powerful ball-carrier will start at blindside flanker and could end up at second row when the customary raft of replacements hit the second-half fray.
Experienced number eight Heaslip believes Henderson boasts impressive athletic ability, belying his 6ft 6in, 18stone frame.
“He’s a big boy but for a guy of his height he’s got magical feet,” said Heaslip.
“I don’t know if it comes across, but he’s really light on his toes, he’s quite agile, so for a guy of his height, weight and power it makes him really dynamic and quite dangerous when he’s carrying the ball.
“And when he doesn’t have it, when he gets a shot on someone, he can really put a hole in them.”
Flanker O’Mahony has been one of Ireland’s star turns this Six Nations, but Leinster loose-forward Heaslip is unfazed by Henderson stepping in for the Munster captain.
“Granted the two players have different characteristics, but I don’t think the back-row is going to change at all, in terms of the level and the standard we’re going to have to bring,” said Heaslip.
“We’re going up against a quality back-row, and I’m sure he’ll take the opportunity with both hands.
“I had a good chat with him in the week, he knows exactly what he’s got to do, and now he can just go out and do his thing.
“He has the full confidence of the 14 players around him and the lads on the bench too.”
Italy have chosen not to risk highly-rated back-row duo Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni, hoping both will be fresh for their final-round clash with England in Rome.
Assistant coach Les Kiss rejected any notions of Ireland being frustrated if the Azzurri have placed more importance on their England test than this weekend’s trip to Dublin.
Joshua Furno has moved from lock out to blindside for Italy, with Paul Derbyshire starting at seven and Robert Barbieri switching to number eight.
“You look at the blokes they’ve brought in: they are good quality players,” said Kiss, anticipating Italy’s changes to bolster their line-out challenge.
“So we don’t look on it as a frustration, we just know this is going to be a massive challenge to manage these guys.
“We’ve just got a Test match to play, and quite frankly if you look at most teams now, when a player drops out the quality that’s coming in to replace them is getting better and better at every level of rugby.”