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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 18 May 2021
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Henshaw taking centre stage as Kearney feels his way back to fitness

The Connacht man partnered Gordon D’Arcy in the centre at today’s open training session at the Aviva.

IRELAND TRAINED WITH a centre combination of Gordon D’Arcy and Robbie Henshaw today, eight days out from the first international Test of the season against South Africa.

Joe Schmidt speaking to the players Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Though Rob Kearney trained today for the first time this week, it was not a full session and the Leinster man is still feeling his way back to full fitness. That restriction on Kearney will have meant more time for Jared Payne to run from fullback than Schmidt would have felt ideal.

As a result, the door has been opened for Henshaw to fill the jersey so long associated with Brian O’Driscoll.

Asked if the Connacht star was ready to face the Springboks, Schmidt said: ”In nine days time we’ll know.

“I don’t think we’ll ever know until the the player has been put in the position. There would be better ways for Robbie to be prepared, there would be a better introduction, a more gradual introduction to come up against, most likely, Jan Serfontein and Jean De Villiers. I think that’s a massive ask.

“Those two – and whoever’s inside them: Pollard and Lambie or Steyn – they’re all an influence on how Robbie gets an opportunity to do his job and how much help he can give to the wingers. We’re going to need to stay connected there with Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen or Cornal Hendricks.

“There’s a good challenge for him there, whether he’s ready for the challenge. I think we’ll find out.”

If certain sentences from Schmidt confuse the issue it’s likely deliberate. The Kiwi will keep the decision close to his chest until he has to name his starting XV next week. So to illustrate the choice he faces, Schmidt also ensured to point out the different set of skills that Payne can bring to the position.

Payne game

“There’s a potential for Jared to start,” Schmidt says.

“With Jared, his angles of running, his ability to read the defence and defend successfully has been top notch.

“His ability to play a bit of a kicking game from a second receiver is another aspect from his fullback experience. He’s brought a bit of experience I suppose. He’s played against a number of these South Africans before. We think that’s a bit of an advantage as well, knowing your opponent. He can bring that experience to the group.”

Having lost James Cronin and Nathan White to injury in the past week, Schmidt will be keeping a close eye on the provincial front rows this weekend. Even though he is hopeful that Mike Ross can take a full part in training next week.

“Mike Ross is progressing pretty well. We’d be quietly confident. he’s been taking part in some of the more static aspects of training.

“He involved himself in some of the more static aspects of the game, so hopefully he’ll come through and can be involved in those.

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Sean Farrell

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