Sean McMahon reports from Carton House
You would be forgiven for letting the fact that Robbie Henshaw started his career at fullback slip your mind, such has been his transformation into a world-class centre.
The Athlone native was superb in this position during the early days of his Connacht career and he often switched between 15 and centre during Pat Lam’s reign.
His last start in this position came when he made his debut for Ireland against the USA in 2013 but most recently, he got a taste of the early days when he switched mid-game for Leinster in their clash Benetton because of an injury picked up by Rob Kearney.
That injury has seen Kearney miss out on the last two Ireland selections and has re-surfaced a debate surrounding who would fill in for the 32-year-old if he is absent. That mantle has deservedly gone to Jordan Larmour after his three-try heroics at Soldier Field last weekend but after Henshaw revealed his enjoyment in playing at 15 this week, the theory was put to Joe Schmidt at this afternoon’s press conference.
“I think he’s [Henshaw] great in the positions that he’s played for us. Both at 12 and at 13. I wouldn’t have too much hesitation putting him back at 15, he’s got a lot of the attributes. It would be a very ad-hoc preparation for him to suddenly slot in at 15 on the back of a fairly short, late change, playing away to Treviso, I think it was, for Leinster.
There’s no doubt that Schmidt believes he could do a job there but he is aware of the time it would take to readjust Henshaw to the demands of that position, especially at Test match level.
“In the last few years, he’s hasn’t had a lot of game-time there. I think you need a little bit of time to recalibrate if you are going to play in a position. Is there anyone more capable of re-calibrating? Probably not too many.
“He’s a smart player and he’s committed to doing his preparation thoroughly enough that he probably would adjust really well. So, it is something that has been in the back of our minds for a long time as an option if we needed to go there. The one thing I wouldn’t say is it’s probably not our first option and it’s not something that we’re going to necessarily suddenly default to with both Garry [Ringrose] and Rob Kearney highly likely to be involved next week or highly likely to be available for selection at least.
“I think we’ll slot Robbie in and what I like about Robbie is that he’ll slot himself in wherever we’re looking to get him to contribute.”
As Schmidt said, it’s Henshaw’s level of preparation and attention to detail which makes him an ideal member of the current Irish squad and such is the 25-year-old’s adaptability, he could fit in to many different areas of the pitch.
“I know he played a lot of it and was described as favouring it in the week but he favours contributing to the team with his ability wherever he’s selected. Robbie is the sort of guy you could pick at 7 and he’d go out and do a really good job.”