Schmidt will have final say on Henshaw's Connacht fate – Fitzgerald
The IRFU president has said that Connacht's only current international Robbie Henshaw will have to move to another province if Irish coach Joe Schmidt insists on it.
Pat Fitzgerald said that the national team has to come first and that Henshaw (above), who recently signed a contract extension to stay with Connacht until 2016, would have to move.
Connacht coach Pat Lam is determined to hold on to the gifted 20-year old who burst on the scene at the start of last season. The Athlone native went from playing schools rugby to the Heineken Cup in just six months and by last summer picked up the first of three Irish caps.
Fitzgerald, the first member of a junior club to be elected president of the IRFU when the Longford official was appointed last June, was speaking on Shannonside radio yesterday when he asked what guarantee he could give that Henshaw would not be plucked by one of the other provinces.
"That's a difficult one, I don't have the answer. All I can say is that if the national coach feels that Robbie Henshaw would be better playing in another province, then the green team I'm afraid has to come first."
Elsewhere, there was bad news for Munster as it was confirmed that Peter O'Mahony will miss the rest of the season after having reconstructive shoulder surgery in Dublin yesterday.
Meanwhile, as first mentioned in these pages last month, there were further unconfirmed reports last night that Ulster utility back Jared Payne is being lined up for a move to Leinster as a replacement for the retiring Brian O'Driscoll.
Fitzgerald also revealed that the IRFU has this week sanctioned increased funding for Connacht, and the president said that he was confident the sport would continue to grow in the west. "We are just about to announce a new chief executive for Connacht, and as of yesterday the IRFU have agreed to continue to fund Connacht and fund Connacht at a greater level than ever before."
"So from anybody that is thinking about rugby that is living west of the Shannon the future is looking very bright for Connacht."
"I have no doubt that with the new Heineken Cup, or whatever it is going to be called, that Connacht will be there or thereabouts and with the investment that the IRFU is going to put into Connacht they are just going to get stronger.
"I've no doubt that the Irish provinces can continue to be successful and one of the reasons is that the academies in the provinces are really beginning to bear fruit; we now have a conveyor-belt where people are becoming provincial players a lot younger.
"If you take Robbie Henshaw as an example, he was a year out of his Leaving Cert and I gave him is first cap last June. He's not even 21 and he's an international player with a great future."
The IRFU president said that the threat of cash-rich French clubs targeting Irish players remains an issue despite several internationals signing new contracts this season.
"It is a worry, even now when we have signed the Jamie Heaslips and the Sean O'Briens and all the guys who were targeted by the French clubs with the big chequebooks. We've realised that if we have to compete at chequebook level we ain't going to be able to, so we have to offer something else.
"What we offer is lifestyle, number one, it is how we protect them, in a lot of cases we nearly protect them from themselves. A player playing for Ireland will play around 24 games a year. Johnny Sexton and people like that will probably play closer to 40 games in France. It prolongs their shelf life if they stay in Ireland," added the IRFU president.
Meanwhile, Leinster back-row Conor Gilsenan revealed that "it was the right time to move" after being snapped up by London Irish yesterday.
Gilsenan starred in Leinster's British & Irish Cup win last season but this season the captain of that side was farmed out to Connacht as injury cover.
Gilsenan is a former Junior and Senior Cup-winning captain with Clongowes Wood College, and he has played at Under-18, U-19 and U-20 levels for Ireland. "I'm excited at the challenge," he said.