Saturday 16 December 2017

Leinster set to land Robbie Henshaw as Connacht confirm centre will leave

Robbie Henshaw will leave Connacht at the end of the season
Robbie Henshaw will leave Connacht at the end of the season

Ruaidhri O’Connor

ROBBIE HENSHAW’s move to Leinster from Connacht at the end of the season has moved a step closer with the western province confirming he will leave when his contract expires in June.

The Ireland centre has informed his home province of his intentions and they have released a statement confirming his departure.

It is understood that the 22-year-old is close to agreeing a central contract with the IRFU that is set to be signed in the coming days and will precipitate his widely expected move to Leinster.

Commenting on the news Pat Lam said: “Obviously we are disappointed with the ultimate outcome of our negotiations with Robbie, however, we respect the decision he has made and wish him all the best with the Irish team into the future.”

Commenting on his decision Henshaw said: “I would like to thank everyone involved in Connacht Rugby who has played a part in getting me to where I am today, from my club, Buccaneers, to my school, Marist College and all of the coaching staff in Connacht Rugby itself.

“I was fortunate to be given my chance to play pro rugby at just 19 years of age and it’s been an incredible journey over the past four seasons, culminating in my breakthrough onto the national team.

“I also want to thank the Connacht fans who have always been so supportive of not just me but the team as a whole.

“Connacht Rugby are sitting in a strong position both in the PRO12 and Challenge Cup and I am determined to play my part to ensure we finish the season out on a high.”

The move to the eastern province had been widely mooted for some time, but it is understood the decision to leave Connacht was not taken lightly by the highly rated Ireland centre and his advisors as he weighed up his options.

Ultimately, the prospect of playing week in, week out with Johnny Sexton and availing of the state of the art facilities on offer at Leinster’s UCD base are likely to have been big factors in swaying him in favour of a move that will bring his life-long association with Connacht to an end.

Both provinces and Munster are understood to have tabled offers for the star centre who also attracted strong interest from a number of clubs in France after performing so well at last year’s World Cup.

Henshaw’s father Tony, uncle Davy – a former Connacht tighthead - and advisor Michael Cosgrave have been conducting negotiations with IRFU performance director David Nucifora with a view to securing a first national contract.

Henshaw has been the poster-boy for the western province since bursting on to the scene in his first year out of school in 2012 and won his first cap for Ireland against the United States as a 19-year-old at the end of that break-out season.

He has been one of Connacht’s top performers ever since as Pat Lam assembled a squad capable of competing at the top end of the Guinness Pro12, but has opted to make the move to the three-time European champions.

Given his debut by Eric Elwood and working under the influence of the province’s Academy manager Nigel Carolan, he feels a huge debt of gratitude to the coaches who have helped him along his way.

The move would be a coup for Leinster who have lost Ben Te’o to Worcester Warriors after two years at the RDS and Ian Madigan who has covered the No 12 position in recent seasons and is leaving for Bordeaux.

While the IRFU were understood to open to the idea of Ireland’s starting inside centre remaining at Connacht, Schmidt will draw comfort from the idea of Henshaw building his already promising relationship with Sexton on a weekly basis, while he will also approve of the Athlone native linking up with Garry Ringrose as the 20-year-old prospect continues to make his breakthrough.

While the union and the national team coach can influence the player, the final decision was his alone to make.

The move will bring to an end a difficult period for the Henshaw has had to deal with constant speculation over his future as he weighed up his options and decided that Leinster is the best place for him in the years to come.

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