Wednesday 18 January 2017

The four options open to Robbie Henshaw as he assesses his future

Published 10/11/2015 | 02:30

Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Simone Ragusi of Benetton Treviso
Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Simone Ragusi of Benetton Treviso

Robbie Henshaw has plenty on his plate as he assesses the next steps of his career. He has options, but the key is choosing wisely and making sure he can get the most out of the next three or four years.

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On Saturday, the Ireland inside centre answered a series of questions on his future with Connacht as honestly as he could. He is in an invidious position, forced to choose between staying with his home province and remaining part of their steady development under Pat Lam or spreading his wings in search of a higher quality of rugby and the prospect of silverware.

As much as he'd like space and time for these decisions, the 22-year-old is a box-office figure in Irish rugby now after a brilliant World Cup campaign.

Despite signing a two-year contract in 2013, Henshaw has had to deal with speculation over his future on a regular basis over the last two years and has known this was coming.

He hopes to have his future sorted out by Christmas and his father Tony, who represents him, is likely to hear from IRFU performance director David Nucifora in the next week or two.

Part of the Australian's role is ensuring that Joe Schmidt has as many Ireland players to choose from as possible and he is keen to move players between the provinces to facilitate game-time.

As one of the first names on Joe Schmidt's team-sheet, he can expect a lucrative central contract and you can be sure that the two men in charge of the national team's fortunes will have an opinion on where the centre should be playing his rugby in the years to come.

There will be an emotional pull from home, the lure of playing rugby abroad and the other provinces will not be shy in selling themselves but the key for Henshaw is making sure that his next move is the right one for himself.

So, what are his options?

1 Stay at Connacht

Increasingly, remaining with Pat Lam's side appears to be the unlikeliest of options for the best player ever to emerge from the western province's academy and that is a real shame.

No one doubts that Connacht are moving in the right direction, but their failure to make the Champions Cup this season has left them behind their provincial rivals for another season.

For all the progress made by the team currently sitting a-top the Guinness Pro12, the western province remain the poor relation and Henshaw's only fellow Connacht player at the World Cup was 34-year-old New Zealander Nathan White and for all that the province's academy is beginning to produce high-quality players their main man is ahead of the curve.

However, the IRFU may want to think twice before pushing the Athlone native away from the place he has called home since 2012. If the union are serious about having four provinces competing on an equal footing and backing Connacht's grassroots to green shirts campaign which explicitly targets the province producing a Lion for the first time then they'd keep Henshaw in Galway.

Fitness and form permitting, that first Connacht Lion looks like being Henshaw, but it appears unlikely he will still line out in green in 2017 unless Lam convinces him and Nucifora that home is the best place for him.

2 Linking up with Leinster

Undoubtedly, it would be an emotional wrench to leave, but Henshaw must be selfish as he considers his options.

Ever since he emerged as the bright young full-back heralded by Eric Elwood in 2012, the powerful back has been linked with Leinster and former coach Matt O'Connor made his admiration well known last year.

However, he and Nucifora must assess whether the eastern seaboard is the best place for the prodigious centre.

Luke Fitzgerald has hinted towards real promise at inside centre, while Noel Reid was part of the extended international squad and Ian Madigan also operates at No 12.

Ben Te'o's future is insecure as he is linked with a return to rugby league in Australia, but Garry Ringrose is already being touted as an international-in-waiting.

So, Leinster are well-stocked but do have a proven track record in bringing through internationals and the opportunity to work outside Johnny Sexton on a regular basis must be attractive to the union.

3 Move to Munster

Rob Penney tried to lure Henshaw south when his contract was last up for negotiation and the Reds are likely to be hammering down Nucifora's door to try and secure the centre's signature.

Henshaw would immediately become a key leader in the Munster set-up if he made the move to Thomond Park and with Keith Earls, Tyler Bleyendaal, Denis Hurley and Francis Saili in situ, there is potential for an effective partnership and rotation. Munster appear to need Henshaw more than Leinster do, while Ulster's stocks are full at centre with their academy producing Sammy Arnold and Stuart McCloskey to challenge Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave and Jared Payne in recent years.

A move to Munster, who are prepared to make the centre one of their marquee names, makes a lot of sense for a province seeking impetus in the post-Paul O'Connell era and the IRFU who are looking to spread their options.

It is perhaps up to Anthony Foley to convince the player that it is the right place for his career to develop.

4 Go abroad

Henshaw admitted at the weekend that he has already received a number of offers from outside Ireland and his World Cup displays are likely to have brought him to the attention of the big-spending French giants and the Premiership clubs looking for the prototype modern centre.

JJ Hanrahan's move to Northampton Saints proves that the IRFU can't rest on their laurels, but it appears unlikely that an Ireland starter of such high regard would be allowed to leave these shores at his age.

If he signs a three- or four-year deal, Henshaw will have his pick of European clubs when his contract next comes up and it appears the least likely option of all that he'd head abroad.

Irish Independent

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