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Henshaw caught in Connacht

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Ireland's Robbie Henshaw. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

IRELAND career may force move to Leinster

THE end of Brian O'Driscoll's, 35, career is almost upon us; the end of Gordon D'Arcy's, 34, not too far away either.

This will make Ireland's problem Leinster's problem as jerseys twelve and thirteen become a focus for Joe Schmidt and Matt O'Connor and how to replace an international world-record partnership.

The answer to one Irish jersey could be Jared Payne; the answer to the other Robbie Henshaw.

At Leinster alone, there are a host of possibilities for twelve in the proven Fergus McFadden, the emerging Noel Reid, the under-rated Colm O'Shea – he is prone to injury – former number eight Jordan Coghlan, last season's Ireland U20 Tom Daly – he has the extra dimension as a sound goal kicker – and current Ireland U20s Peter Robb and Harrison Brewer.

The cupboard is not quite as full at thirteen where the main point of discussion seems to centre around how to manoeuvre wingers into the centre with Luke Fitzgerald as the outstanding candidate for Irish honours.

Out-and-out outside centre Brendan Macken and the super-competitive McFadden are experienced enough, if good enough. Last season's Ireland U20 Tom Farrell and up-and-coming Gary Ringrose are also possibilities for the long-term.

At the moment, Henshaw is outside the clutches of Leinster and locked inside a two-year contract extension at Connacht.

Leinster Manager Guy Easterby is an admirer: "Why would you not be interested in him? Absolutely! We would be," he said last week.

The European Cup landscape looks like changing drastically with all fingers pointing to a new-look 20-club competition based on seven qualifiers from the PRO12 League with one guaranteed slot for each of the four countries.

Automatic

Should it come to pass, this will put Connacht in the position of having to finish the season in one of the top three places outside this automatic four, a feat almost definitely beyond them.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will want all his players to be playing Heineken Cup level or risk being left outside the 'circle of trust' because the PRO12 is light years away from international rugby.

Henshaw's contract could be circumvented for the greater good of Ireland, thus benefitting Leinster as the place most likely for Henshaw to choose for the former Westmeath minor footballer.

"In the future, that is possibly something we can look at," said Easterby. "As a talent, as a thirteen, he's obviously got all the skills. Brian (O'Driscoll) has spoken very highly of what he will be able to deliver in the future."

The problem for Ireland is that Ulster's Jared Payne is the obvious and best choice for the number 13 jersey. He has the experience and the skills to play there right now.

Besides, Ireland full-back Rob Kearney once again demonstrated his excellence and consistency as a rock-solid option over the course of the Six Nations. Payne is not needed there.

For the World Cup, there is another option that makes sense. The retirement of O'Driscoll opens the door for Payne. The winding down of D'Arcy – he is due to sign on to the 2015 World Cup – and the repeated concussions to Luke Marshall leaves uncertainty.

Ulster's Stuart Olding is a dynamic runner, a composed playmaker and a multi-skilled exponent, who had his season extinguished by injury when he looked primed to put it up to Marshall. He is a strong option.

While Henshaw has been fairly pedalled as a full-back or outside centre, he is most likely to become a legitimate Ireland World Cup starter at inside centre.

The 20-year-old has the size and strength at almost 100 kilos, closing in on 16 stones, the passing game, the offloading skills and natural physicality for defence to give head coach Schmidt that extra dimension at inside centre.

D'Arcy made the transition from wing to inside centre; Henshaw can make the move from outside to inside for Ireland and, in time, maybe even for Leinster.


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