Tuesday 22 October 2019

Ruaidhri O'Connor: 'Henshaw's latest injury leaves Joe Schmidt facing a familiar selection issue'

Bundee Aki, right, and Robbie Henshaw of Ireland during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki, right, and Robbie Henshaw of Ireland during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland won’t be updating the public with news on Robbie Henshaw’s hamstring injury for another 24 hours but already Joe Schmidt is making plans to face Scotland without the Leinster star.

Whether he’ll get to play any role at this World Cup will be known to the staff in the next few hours and, whether it comes out in the public domain or not, his ill-timed injury is a real blow to the team’s preparations.

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It won’t be any use to Henshaw, but the consolation for Schmidt is that it is nothing new.

The Athlone native’s injury profile since he starred at the last World Cup is a worrying one and the latest problem follows a litany of issues that have limited his involvement to nine Tests out of the 30 he could have featured in since the start of 2017.

Bundee Aki’s emergence as an option in the second-half of that year has made life a lot easier for the coach.

The Connacht man has been a remarkably durable campaigner who has had to adapt to a revolving door of centre partners over the course of his 20-cap career.

Even in the pre-World Cup warm-up period, he lined up alongside Garry Ringrose at Twickenham, Chris Farrell in Cardiff and Henshaw in the return fixture against Wales in Dublin.

Although he is hopeful that Henshaw’s injury is not as serious as feared, Schmidt effectively ruled him out of the Scotland game. Will Addison, who wore the No 13 jersey against Argentina in November 2018, is on stand-by back in Ulster.

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So, it appears likely that Ringrose will start alongside Aki against Scotland on Sunday with Farrell an alternative option.

Schmidt dismissed the idea that the selection of Aki and Henshaw was set in stone, but the way that duo played against Wales suggested they were the first-choice pairing coming to Japan.

"As much as people might have written it into their reports we have made no decisions on who is going to be playing anywhere for this week,” he said this morning at the team’s base in Chiba.

"So there's obviously people better informed than I am, on predicting who was going to play and where!

"But I can assure you we have made no decision, so it's still quite open.

"We'll see what happens with Robbie because if it was just a tightening, it could be a cramp, we've travelled a lot, we've tried to be fully hydrated and fully recovered.

"But if it is more than that and we do leave him out this week, we do feel we've got good cover."

Aki and Ringrose have played together nine times at this level and are growing increasingly familiar with one another, but Farrell was selected to face Scotland in the Six Nations when he partnered up with the New Zealand-born stalwart.

The forecast torrential rain for their World Cup opener will play a part in his thinking and he has much to consider.

The coach will take comfort from the fact that even when he’s been forced to mix and match his players have adapted over the past three seasons.

He’d love to have everyone available all of the time, but that’s proven impossible.

Being forced to adapt so often should steel him and his charges for what’s to come.


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