George Hook: Why would Robbie Henshaw leave Connacht for Leinster?
If the rumours are to be believed, Connacht Rugby will lose its biggest star to a Leinster contract before the season is out.
The 'Robbie Henshaw to Leinster' stories have been doing the rounds for a few years, and it now looks fairly certain that the talented centre will be shipped off to the capital when the current campaign comes to a close.
To what end? As last Sunday's humiliation at the hands of Wasps proved, Leinster are no longer the leading lights of Irish rugby. In fact, one could make a reasonable case that, on current form, Connacht are better equipped to be playing in Europe's premier club rugby competition this season.
Pat Lam has done a superb job with his squad over the past three seasons and with Connacht now top of the Pro12 and playing the best brand of rugby of the four provinces, there is a strong argument that Henshaw should stay put and help his team continue in their progression.
It is ridiculous to suggest that Ireland cannot sustain four competitive professional rugby teams. Connacht have made huge gains in both performance and personnel over the last few years and they have as much right to maintain their competitiveness as Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
What kind of message is the IRFU sending to Connacht players and supporters if, as soon as there is a hint of success, the best young players are stripped away and packed off to other teams? How are Connacht supposed to develop and improve if they are continually treated like a feeder farm for their provincial rivals?
Money should not be an issue for Henshaw, as he is currently on a central contract from the Union and will be eligible for a significant top-up from private investment when his current deal expires next summer. And, with a young, talented, cohesive squad around him in Connacht, I am at a loss as to why he would even consider leaving Galway for the current mess that is Leinster.
If Henshaw wants to further his playing development, he should look no further than his current head coach.
As things stand, Leinster are in real danger of bowing out of the Champions Cup tomorrow. On current form, there is no guarantee that Leinster will even make it into the Champions Cup next season. What then?
Connacht are in the process of building a competitive brand that supporters can identify with. Exciting young players like Kieran Marmion, Danie Poolman, Jack Carty, Craig Ronaldson and Darragh Leader provide the perfect accompaniment to the wise old heads like John Muldoon and Nathan White. Henshaw's centre partnership with Bundee Aki is currently the best midfield unit in the country.
Now, because Leinster click their fingers and because the IRFU is not strong enough to stand over Connacht's development, the brightest star is being whisked away. It is nothing short of a disgrace.
Leinster travel to Bath knowing anything less than a victory will end their chances of qualification for the quarter finals. The general assumption is that Leinster will improve from last week's horror show, but why is this a fait accompli?
If anything, Bath are a better side than Wasps and they will be in no mood to roll over. The best fly-half in England, George Ford, will test Leinster's defence at every opportunity, provided his confidence hasn't been too badly damaged from his recent spell with England.
Ford was the best player on the pitch when these sides met in last season's quarter-final.
Fijian flyer Nikola Matawalu is a dangerous runner from the base of the scrum and his transfer from Glasgow at the end of last season was a huge coup for Bath. Eoin Reddan and the Leinster back row will have to marshall Matawalu carefully.
With Kyle Eastmond and Anthony Watson also coming back in to the Bath three-quarter line, Leinster simply must raise their intensity levels and commitment from last week.
Equally, one would imagine that Leinster will have to yield a better points return from their visits to the opposition 22. Another headless chicken performance in attack would ask serious questions of the coach.
Ulster have their first outing in the tournament at Kingspan stadium in Belfast tonight and it doesn't get much tougher than Saracens. Mark McCall's side hammered an in-form Toulouse last weekend and remain unbeaten in their first four games in the Premiership.
With Munster's match in Stade Francais postponed, and Leinster and Ulster facing extremely difficult tests, what chance Connacht to grab the only Irish victory in Europe against Brive this weekend? Perhaps something for Henshaw to think about.