Wednesday 13 December 2017

Robbie Henshaw hamstring forces Joe into making centre call

Fitzgerald must be eager to get another shot at number twelve

Robbie Henshaw
Robbie Henshaw

This is H-Day for Robbie Henshaw.

That is 'H' for hamstring as Ireland's inside centre bids to overcome what coach Joe Schmidt called "a slight bleed" from pulling up in training last Tuesday week.

Were the Connacht man not to convince Ireland's medical staff of his fitness to practice, the door could swing open again for Luke Fitzgerald to build on what was an impressive return to a position Schmidt played him in four years ago for Leinster.

The fact Henshaw was limited to jogging on Monday does not bode all that well for a return to action on Sunday.

"It would be nice to get some time together with Robbie," considered centre Jared Payne.

"But, whoever Joe picks, we've got to make sure that we get together, do our video work then build the combinations as best we can.

"And then hopefully come the game it's pretty seamless."

Schmidt has already indicated Darren Cave will play against Romania, the number of his shirt, either twelve or thirteen, being left open to interpretation.

It all places Payne in the precarious position of possibly losing his partner-in-success from the Six Nations and either renewing his relationship with provincial colleague Cave or having to wait until Italy to find out the identity of his midfield partner.

The coach's meticulous planning and confirmation of Cave's promotion for Romania almost immediately post-Canada, perhaps for one night only, means Schmidt had already dealt with the possibility of the Henshaw-Payne axis not working together until Italy on Sunday week.

There is also the live chance that Fitzgerald did enough to convince Schmidt the union with Payne is a workable longer-term alternative, especially when Cave was initially overlooked.

The selection of Cave at outside and Fitzgerald at inside would give the latter more minutes in the position.

The apparent composure of Fitzgerald at twelve could well have something to do with the reduction in time spent looking on from the perimeters of the game at wing three-quarter.

The Greystones man is one who turns the game over in his mind.

The fact he was thrown into a situation due to Henshaw's injury where he wasn't given too much time to dwell and contemplate beforehand and less time to ponder the play may be just what he needed.

This is supported by Payne's interesting observation.

"Luke came in and slotted in pretty seamlessly well on the weekend and that was only from a Thursday," he said.

"So we've got to take a lead from that, follow his example and try to do a job."

The too-much-time-to-think theory on Fitzgerald may or may not have merit.

However, he never showed the composure needed for the isolation of full-back, sometimes struggled with his timing onto the ball when returning to the wing and never truly convinced Schmidt of his right to succeed Brian O'Driscoll.

There is more than a fair chance this could simply come down to durability, Fitzgerald's close relationship with long-term injury enough to stretch the trust of any coach.

It was only around this time last year when the 28-year-old was forced to consider the real threat of retirement without having played at even one World Cup.

What a travesty for Fitzgerald and for Ireland it would have been, if it had panned out that way.

Despite the current uncertainty over Henshaw's hamstring, Payne has been around long enough to know a thoroughbred when he sees one.

"Robbie's got a great passing game, very good feet and he's big and abrasive too," said Payne.

"In a few more years he's going to be one of the standout centres in world rugby."


There is a sense that Payne and Henshaw have bonded because they were both thrown into the deep end as what Schmidt has called "a manufactured midfield."

"When Joe first put us together, he just told us to chat to each other a lot and to look at videos to study each other's game to build a combination.

"He gave us confidence to back our skills and try to bring that together as best we could.

"Then any time you get picked together for several games, hopefully you realise you're doing something right."



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