Connacht eager to make statement at Thomond Park
Published 24/11/2015 | 02:30
On the pitch Connacht go from strength to strength, but off it, there is one issue dominating the chatter on the terraces.
Robbie Henshaw's future is a conversation that will rumble on until the 22-year old comes to an agreement with the IRFU, but given that his current deal runs out in June, Connacht and indeed the player could do with having it sorted sooner rather than later.
Of the four Irish provinces, it's not difficult to see which one is on the rise but the potential loss of Connacht's brightest star would suggest that they are still viewed as a feeder club for the so-called bigger teams.
The Westerners travel to Thomond Park on Saturday looking to not only consolidate their place at the summit of the Pro12 table but also seeking their first competitive win in Limerick in 43 encounters.
It's a staggering unwanted record, and although Pat Lam has been hit with several injuries and Munster will come into the game on the back of a weekend off, the Connacht coach will feel this is a golden opportunity to end that dire run.
Connacht's winless streak at Thomond Park dates as far back as 1986 - long before the game turned professional - and victory in Limerick this weekend would serve as a reminder to the IRFU that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Since arriving in Galway two years ago, Lam has built a formidable side that has brought a renewed sense of belief to the Connacht supporters.
South African-born second-row Quinn Roux has seen the development from both sides, having played with Leinster for two years before moving west, initially on loan.
If Henshaw was to leave for Leinster or Munster at the end of the season, it would be a crushing blow for Connacht, but Roux believes that the province would handle his loss.
"We obviously don't want to lose him but if that had to happen, I reckon we could cope with it way better than we would have a couple of years ago," Roux maintained.
"We've been building our squad for the last couple of years so I reckon it's good for us to keep on to what we have and hopefully we can and just build on it from there.
"I reckon in two or three more years, we'll be even stronger than we are at the moment, if we can keep hold of what we have."
And therein lies the crux of the issue in the Henshaw saga. The strides that Connacht have made under Lam suggest that in another couple of seasons, if they are allowed to hang onto their best players, they will be even stronger.
Henshaw's centre partnership with Bundee Aki is the best in the country right now but it may not be a lasting one as the Athlone native continues to play the negotiating game in public.
Yesterday on Newstalk's 'Breakfast Show', Henshaw ruled out the possibility of a move to France, which will have come as a welcome relief to the IRFU and Connacht supporters alike, but he wasn't as quick to dismiss the idea of a move to Leinster.
"I'm not ruling it out at the moment, we'll just see what happens," Henshaw explained.
"I'm not making any decisions yet. I'm just waiting until all the options come in and then I'm going to assess what's best for my career."
One would hope that "all the options" are now on the table because the sooner Henshaw's future is sorted, the sooner that Lam and his Connacht troops can continue their impressive developments without any unwanted off-field distractions.
As good as their start to the season has been, a first win in Thomond Park would send out a massive statement of intent.