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Robbie Henshaw happy to remain at Connacht after Ireland assurances from Joe Schmidt

The Connacht fullback looks set to continue his education, in the 13 jersey, at The Sportsground next season.

Robbie Henshaw was voted the IRUPA young player of the year for the second season running.
Robbie Henshaw was voted the IRUPA young player of the year for the second season running.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

WHEN MATT O’CONNOR remarked, on Monday, that Leinster had ‘exhausted most of the avenues’ in their quest to replace Brian O’Driscoll, it was hard not to think of Robbie Henshaw.

With the legendary outside centre retiring in less than a month’s time, Leinster have been scouting for a viable midfield replacement. With the World Cup 15 months away, high quality southern hemisphere candidates are thin on the ground while internal enquiries about Ulster’s Jared Payne and the versatile Connacht back have been met by fierce resistance.

TheScore.ie caught up with Henshaw at the IRUPA awards, where he took home the best young player accolade, and asked if he was ever tempted, this season, to switch to centre-shopping Leinster or Munster. “I can’t really answer that question,” he replied. “Obviously I am contracted to Connacht for the next couple of seasons. For the moment, I’m focusing on that. [Speculation] is all talk that I haven’t had any dealings with. I didn’t have any thoughts about it, though, when it was being talked about.”

Henshaw is confident that Connacht’s failure to make the European Cup next season will not adversely affect his Ireland chances. He said:

I still think I’ll get some great rugby there… Joe Schmidt said he’ll still look at me if I’m playing with Connacht and that, just because we’re not playing in the top European games, I would still be considered. That was great advice and I think he’s happy with me playing in Connacht for the moment.”

Incoming signings are currently the main topic of conversation out west as Connacht fans contemplate the arrival of New Zealanders Mils Muliaina and Bundee Aki. “Mils’ signing is massive for us,” Henshaw declared. “It can only be brilliant for Connacht next year and, in terms of his experience, the young players like myself, Kieran Marmion and Darragh Leader. We’ll really benefit from his international experience and his talent.

He added, “I watched a couple of clips of Bundee and Pat [Lam] has told me about him. He looks to be a hard runner and a serious talent. He offers a massive attacking presence and it would be great to play off him in the 12 shirt.”

Hibernia College IRUPA Rugby Player Awards 2014 Robbie Henshaw receives his IRUPA Young Player of the Year award from Ulster's Rory Best. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

By looking ahead to a possible Aki-Henshaw midfield partnership, it is clear the 20-year-old sees his future at outside centre. Lam spoke of Muliaina, who earned most of his 100 All Blacks caps at fullback, playing a key role in developing Henshaw’s game ahead of the 2015 World Cup. The Athlone native has his eye on the Irish 13 jersey too and hopes the Kiwi can aid him in that quest.

Henshaw said, “I’m happy to play the two roles and if I’m needed to play fullback I will. For the moment, though, my focus is on 13. Pat has told me that Mils played a good bit of 13, under him, at Auckland Blues. He can only bring a lot of great tips and advice about that role so I hope to learn a lot from him.”

As for the upcoming tour to Argentina, Henshaw openly admits he wants to start in the jersey O’Driscoll vacated in winning style, in March. He would be even happier if Marmion travelled to face Los Pumas with him. “I’d love to see Kieran come in and get some game time. He’s been great all season and has really stepped up from last season.

“In terms of the 13 jersey, I’ve really enjoyed playing there over the last few weeks and hopefully I’ll get a look-in there on the Argentina tour.”

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Patrick McCarry

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