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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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Options options everywhere, but who should play alongside Robbie Henshaw?

A bruised foot for Jared Payne may force Joe Schmidt to look to a new partner for the Connacht star this weekend.

Sean Farrell reports from Guildford

A FEW METRES from the front door of Ireland’s team hotel this week, is Guildford’s own Connacht House.

Okay, so they spell Connacht with u and a g round Surrey, but it should still provide a nice reminder of home for Ireland’s last remaining player without a World Cup minute under his belt.

Robbie Henshaw Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A hamstring issue has kept Robbie Henshaw out of the bonus point wins over Romania. This week will be the 22-year-old’s first chance to get a full run through training and a clean run-up to a game.

As Joe Schmidt’s first choice centre for the past year, he simply must start against Italy this weekend. The prospect of going in to face France with a centre lacking match fitness would be too much of a worry.

A bruise to Jared Payne’s foot means the Ulster Kiwi is anything but guaranteed to renew his partnership with Henshaw though. So the door is open for Darren Cave, Luke Fitzgerald or Keith Earls to grab a midfield slot against the Azzurri.

Henshaw has started in both inside and outside centre for Ireland while Cave played both roles to good effect against Romania. Indeed, when the Ulster and Connacht man were paired together on Wolfhounds duty before the 2014 Six Nations, Henshaw was left to run from 13 while Cave shifted in to 12.

Skillset

It’s a position the 28-year-old is more than happy to slot back in to, despite playing almost all of his professional career outside.

“I actually played it (12) in school and I played Irish schools at 12. I think it’s been more about the amount of number 12s we’ve had at Ulster over the last number of years. It seems to be just a production line: Paddy Wallace is now away and Chris Farrell is away but there’s still Stuart McCloskey, Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall and myself.

“I think it’s more down to who we’ve got at Ulster rather than my skillset.”

The only nagging doubt over Cave’s claim to a starting berth is that he was overlooked for the tournament’s opening weekend, when Fitzgerald was a surprise selection for the inside centre role.

Jonathan Sexton and Darren Cave Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I was hopeful when I heard that Robbie was going to be unavailable (for Canada), but at the end of the day, Luke Fitzgerald is a fantastic player. He’s a British and Irish , 30/40 caps. I was disappointed but at the same time, I understood the selection and given Luke’s performance, he justified the confidence that was put in him.”

Rekindling that night with the Wolfhounds remains a possibility for Cave, but again Joe Schmidt’s methods can leave us second-guessing the logic.

I haven’t had a whole heap of reps with Robbie in there recently, we’ve been sharing the workload at 12, but I’ve played plenty with him before. He’s another fantastic player so we’re absolutely spoiled for choice.”

It’s a head-scratcher. Made all the more puzzling by the proximity of Ireland’s biggest World Cup fixture on 11 October. Henshaw plus one of either Cave, Fitzgerald, Payne or Earls. With the former two comfortable in either midfield position and the former two nursing a bruise and in flying form on the wing.

Who goes where?

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Sean Farrell

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