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'Connacht are putting their best foot forward to be able to keep Robbie'

David Nucifora says that Ian Madigan would be at a disadvantage by moving to France.

ROBBIE HENSHAW’S FUTURE is an issue that has occupied the Irish rugby world since the Athlone man first broke into the national team in 2013.

Is he best served by remaining in Connacht, continuing the clear growth he has made under head coach Pat Lam? Would a move to the historically more successful Leinster, who have so many of his international teammates in their squad, be better?

IrelandÕs Robbie Henshaw Henshaw has a major decision to make. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Are Munster not the most in need of his undoubtedly high-class ability in midfield?

Henshaw’s current Connacht deal expires next summer and the recent discussions around where he will be playing next season have also included mention of where the IRFU might push him.

Henshaw is set to move onto one of the IRFU’s central contracts next season, and the union’s performance director David Nucifora yesterday evening confirmed that discussions have opened.

“Hopefully he will be staying in Ireland,” said Nucifora at the Aviva Stadium. “We have opened discussions with Robbie and I am hopeful that will be the case. Like most of these things we just have to wait and see how they pan out.

I’d be more than confident that Robbie will be playing his rugby in Ireland.”

However, Nucifora insisted that the IRFU have no say in deciding which province Henshaw will play his rugby with from next season onwards. According to the former Australia hooker, that decision is entirely in the 22-year-old’s hands.

“That’s up to Robbie,” said Nucifora. “I know that sometimes people think that we manipulate the system and tell people where they can play, but that’s not the case. The players, when they are off contract, it is totally up to them to decide where to play.

“As much as we would like to influence them, we don’t have that right. If they choose to play in any one of the four provinces that is up to them. Ultimately he will make that on a rugby decision.”

Denis Hurley and Robbie Henshaw Henshaw is currently sidelined through injury. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Nucifora lauded the work done by Pat Lam with Connacht in recent seasons, particularly noting his development of a young group of Irish players, and stated that there is no reason why Henshaw will not strongly consider staying in Galway.

“Connacht are putting their best foot forward to be able to put a deal out there to keep Robbie there, and they can’t do much more than perform on the field and they’re doing a damned good job of that at the moment,” said Nucifora.

“I’d suggest between last year and this year, they’ve continued to improve. They’ve been at the right end of the table for quite a number of weeks and are still up there near the top of the ladder. Robbie will look at that, and he’ll decide whether his future lies best in Connacht or somewhere else.”

The issue of player movement between the provinces has been a major talking point in recent times, with Nucifora and others clearly believing that a more intelligent spread of the best available talent will benefit both the provinces themselves and the national team.

While Nucifora again stressed that he cannot tell any Irish player where to go, he is hopeful that players who are not getting game time in one place will seek out the opportunity for a move.

“I think they have to take responsibility as well and if you’re going to be a world-class player you have to have ambition and drive,” said Nucifora. “If that means packing up the kitbag and moving down the road, then that’s what it takes.

“There’s a lot of guys who do that but it would be nice to think that more people have got that ambition, and when you see young players doing well, hopefully that whets the appetite of other blokes as well.”

Nucifora underlined that keeping the best Irish talent in the country remains the priority and admitted that the “cheque books of the UK and French markets” make it all the more important that the IRFU and the provinces are smart in how they do business.

Ian Madigan Madigan is close to agreeing a move to Bordeaux. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Simon Zebo is one player who has been linked with leaving Ireland next season and is believed to be close to confirming as much, while Ian Madigan is in much the same boat as Bordeaux attempt to lure him to France.

“I can’t sit here tonight and say players won’t go,” said Nucifora. “I do think that there will be players that could potentially leave, particularly with the cycle that we are in at the moment.

“The cycle at the moment where you have just come off the back of a World Cup, you are more exposed. They could very well look at it like that and that is a decision that they have to make. This is probably the most contentious time to be able to lock them down but they are decisions that they make.”

Nucifora pointed to the example of Johnny Sexton at Racing 92 and the challenge involved in ensuring he was released for international camps as one of the reasons he hopes the likes of Zebo and Madigan stay in Ireland.

He also stated his belief that the IRFU’s player welfare system remains a strong reason for Irish players to stay at home, and did admit that someone like Madigan moving to France would leave them in a worsened position in terms of the national squad.

“If Ian decided to go and he played 10 every week, we wouldn’t ignore him. We don’t ignore any of the players that might be overseas, we watch them all very carefully. Does it mean that he is disadvantaged behind the boys playing in Ireland? Yes, it does.”

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Murray Kinsella

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