Robbie Henshaw to stay with Connacht next season but Munster preparing to swoop
Robbie Henshaw will not leave Connacht at the end of this season but the race to sign the Ireland star in 2016 is already underway.
Despite the centre's own insistence that he was under contract until the end of next season, rumours have persisted all season that he would move to Leinster before the World Cup.
However, the Irish Independent understands that that switch will not take place and the Athlone native will remain at the Sportsground until the end of the 2015/16 season.
Connacht will have a huge battle on their hands to hold on to the 20-year-old who is already attracting interest, with Munster believed to be prepared to make him one of their best-paid players if he moves from Galway to Limerick in the summer of 2016.
Leinster have long been favourites to lure Henshaw east and have previously expressed their admiration for the rising star, while Ulster, like Munster, made a play for him when his contract was last up for renewal.
Given his rapid recent rise to a central figure in the national team, Henshaw's next contract is likely to be a centralised IRFU deal which could be enough to ward off interest from overseas.
But the news will offer some short-term relief to Connacht at least as they look to get their bid for European qualification back on track after Sunday's defeat to Scarlets.
Henshaw's current focus is on Ireland's Six Nations campaign, and Joe Schmidt gathered his squad in Galway last night to begin preparation for their meeting with England on Sunday week.
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He will have to do without No 8 Jamie Heaslip, who is out for four weeks after breaking three vertebrae during Saturday's win over France.
The vice-captain suffered the injury when he was on the end of a knee in the back from French second-row Pascal Pape, who was yesterday cited for the incident.
Pape received a yellow card from referee Wayne Barnes, but will be investigated further under law 10.4(a), Punching or striking: 'A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s).' He will appear before a tribunal later this week.
The IRFU are not ruling out the idea that Heaslip might play some part in the rest of the tournament despite his injury.
They have estimated his recovery period at four weeks, which could allow him to return in time to face Wales or Scotland in the final fortnight.
England could be without star full-back Mike Brown, who has been given two days' complete rest this week after suffering a concussion in their win over Italy. The English medical team were assessing the Harlequins player last night and will issue an update today.