Sunday 17 December 2017

Leaving as Pro12 champions would be difficult - Henshaw

Ireland and Connacht centre Robbie Henshaw overseeing the Aviva Mini Rugby Festival on Saturday
Ireland and Connacht centre Robbie Henshaw overseeing the Aviva Mini Rugby Festival on Saturday
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For Robbie Henshaw, the reality that this Saturday could be the final time that he lines out at the Sportsground in a Connacht jersey is slowly beginning to set in.

Of course, he has known that the day would soon come. But although he will be doing his utmost to ensure that the journey in front of the supporters who have watched him blossom into a world-class player doesn't end this weekend, with the league leaders and defending champions coming to town, that is a distinct possibility.

Back in February, shortly after Henshaw's move to Leinster was confirmed, the 22-year-old spoke eloquently about the sleepless nights he had in deciding to leave and how he felt that he was letting the people of Connacht down.

Two months later and Henshaw has played a major role in not only ensuring that Connacht will play in the Champions Cup next season but also in helping them reach the Pro12 semi-finals for the first time.

The western province has unquestionably been the highlight of Irish rugby this year but Friday's shock defeat in Treviso was not part of the script.

It means that Connacht must beat Glasgow Warriors this weekend if they are to play their last-four clash in Galway, and in turn give Henshaw one last run-out at the ground where he has become a favourite son.

"It's massively important to me. It's a thought that came into my head," Henshaw says as if the possibility has been at the forefront of his mind for some time. "My parents said it to me last week, 'Glasgow could be your last home game in Connacht'.

"I think it'll be a strange night for me. It'll be a bit difficult after the game to see what I'm leaving. But all in all, I have unbelievable memories from there and I'm so thankful to Connacht and the fans for what they invested in me. I wouldn't be where I am today without that.

"I've come to terms with it (leaving) more. Things happen in life and you just have to go with it. It's a new challenge and a new phase for me.

"It's the first big change in my career since I really first stepped foot in Connacht when I started. It's a new chapter for me and I can't deny that there's a bit of excitement there as well.

"It's just a massive thing. There's never been silverware won before. We are creating history in terms of getting to the semi-final. We've hit our goals this year. The main objective was to get Champions Cup rugby. We've done that but we're not looking back.

"If we were to win silverware, it would be a huge statement for Irish rugby in terms of where the province is going and the good work that the coaches and backroom staff are doing."

As time moves on, the idea of leaving Connacht for Leinster has become easier in Henshaw's mind but would it make it even easier or more difficult if he departed having helped the club win their first trophy?

"It would probably make it ... I don't know. A bit of both maybe. It would make it difficult if we won the competition. Yeah ... it would make it difficult if we won," the Athlone native hesitantly concedes.

"But the club would be in a good place and that's where the ease will come in. Rugby has hit a new level in Galway and in the province and it's about continuing that now and trying to win some silverware."

While his focus and entire commitment remains with Connacht over the next few weeks, Henshaw has been keeping an eye on Leinster's games as he attempts to get a head-start ahead of next season.

The prospect of him linking up with Garry Ringrose in midfield is something that will have every Leinster and Irish supporter purring with excitement but some of Henshaw's best rugby this season has been played from full-back.

Joe Schmidt, however, has primarily seen him as a powerful, ball-carrying 12 that can regularly get his side over the gain line.

"I love full-back," Henshaw admits. "I'm not going to deny that. It's the position I started out in under Eric Elwood. I played there a lot as a schoolboy as well. It would be one of my stronger positions and 13 as well.

"I think I can move around. It's good to have a bit of variation in my game and be able to play different areas but ultimately in the centre is where I'm at, at the moment.

"Full-back, I'm not sure. It could be a long-term prospect but it's good to be versatile and be able to move around.

"It comes down to what the game-plan is and if you are being used as a 'bosh' merchant. There are plenty of 12s there who can be distributors as well. I enjoyed moving out to the wider channels in the Six Nations. We'll see down the line, maybe I'll end up there."

What position Henshaw will eventually end up is for another day as for now the focus is entirely on Glasgow this weekend.

"I know when I'm leaving that there's unbelievable cover there that's coming up," Henshaw maintains. "The young guys are really stepping up and they're able to deal with the pressures the same way as I did.

"All in all, we're into the semis which we've never done before. That's one big positive for us and for the province. It's in our hands now. If we get the win, we've got a home semi and that would be more beneficial for us. It's going to be a massive week."

A massive week in Connacht's history and in Henshaw's career.

Irish Independent

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