Schmidt: Henshaw will take a little time to find his feet at the World Cup

Schmidt says it’s not ideal that Jared Payne is injured this weekend.

ROBBIE HENSHAW HAS 12 caps for Ireland already, but his World Cup debut is a thrilling proposition nonetheless.

Joe Schmidt, his coaching team, Henshaw’s teammates and all of Ireland’s supporters have been made to wait for this particular milestone, with a hamstring strain having denied the Connacht man a starting chance against Canada and Romania.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw returns for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Now fully fit again, Henshaw returns to Ireland’s 12 jersey tomorrow against Italy at Olympic Park (KO 4.45pm) eager to make the impact he has promised to make since he was a standout player on the underage scene out west.

Ireland’s midfield has been an ever-changing feature so far this season and the foot injury to Jared Payne this week means there could be another change for the France game on 11 October.

For now, it’s Henshaw and Keith Earls who will face up against Michele Campagnaro and Gonzalo Garcia.

I’d say it’s probably a lack of continuity of selection and availability, but I’m hopeful it’s not a lack of consistency,” says Joe Schmidt of having named seven different centre partnerships across seven games so far this season.

“I’m hoping that they can continue to challenge our opponents and, at the same time, deprive our opponents of opportunity through the middle of the field.

“It’s great having Robbie back. For him, he’s going to take a little while to find his feet. At the same time, with Keith, he’s going to re-adjust from having been on the wing for the last couple of weeks.

“To be honest, it’s probably not ideal. It would be nice to have the security of Jared who had played the last two weeks at 13, especially because Robbie slotted between those two (Payne and out-half Johnny Sexton).

Joe Schmidt Schmidt will have picked this Italy team apart. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But Keith adds a little bit of a different dimension and it’d be great if we can create a little bit of space for Keith because he’s been very good on his feet and he’s actually been a real threat every time he’s had the ball.”

Earls is certainly one of the most in-form Ireland players ahead of tomorrow’s clash with the Italians, but it would have been ideal for Schmidt to give the Henshaw and Payne pairing a run together in midfield this weekend.

Payne’s bruised foot is a concern ahead of next week’s training at this stage, although the hope is that he will run on Tuesday and then train with the squad on Wednesday in Newport.

The Kiwi native was the target of some criticism last weekend after a quiet outing against Romania, and though he indicated again that no player is an automatic selection, Schmidt did defend his outside centre.

“To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what has been said. It’s not something that would be a focal point for us, particularly not for someone who has done in-depth analysis of the game and not from someone who is close to us at all,” says Schmidt.

“So, we make our own decisions internally, we’ll continue to forge ahead doing that and if people, who are entitled to their own opinions, want to voice them then that’s entirely their opinion.

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“We’ll continue to deal with what the visual fact is and what the known fact is in how he communicates and adds to the collective we have.”

Jonathan Sexton Johnny Sexton is back in to run the show for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

France loom in the background even more so this week, but Schmidt never allows his players to lose sight of the more immediate challenge. This week it is Jacques Brunel’s Italy.

“I think we’ll get that very aggressive, pro-active line speed that makes it difficult to play against them,” says Schmidt of the Italian’s strength. “I think they’ll go after the set-piece and try to make the line-out a buffeting contest.

“I think they’ll try to get on the front foot at scrum time, and there are a couple of areas that they’ll identify as strengths for us that if they can unsettle us, they’ll potentially put us under pressure.

We just have to make sure that we are really well prepared for what they bring in those areas and can stick to what’s working for us and maybe bring in a little bit of new stuff that challenges them as well.”

Schmidt identified the three-pronged kicking threat of Edoardo Gori, Tommaso Allan and Luke McLean as a danger to Ireland’s attempts to control the game, while also underlining the leadership Sergio Parisse brings back into the fold.

In the wide channels, Campagnaro, Leonardo Sarto and Giovanbattista Venditti are all name checked. Schmidt probably knows this Italian team better than anyone, meaning he is sure to understand their weaknesses as well as the strengths he’s quicker to point out.

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