Friday 19 July 2019

Robbie will deliver at 15

Coach has faith in Henshaw's ability

Robbie Henshaw returns to line out at full-back against England tomorrow
Robbie Henshaw returns to line out at full-back against England tomorrow

After all the talk about England coming to overpower Ireland, Eddie Jones has revealed his hand.

And it is a long way short of a royal flush.

What Ireland would have been braced for was a complete super-charge of power.

When Brad Shields and Ben Teo were pulled, it may or may not have caused a rethink.

Mike Brown, the Lord of the Air, has not been recalled.

The athletic Maro Itoje has not been deployed in the back row.

Neither has big-hitter Courtney Lawes, reduced to a bench role, from where the Northampton Saint and Nathan Hughes will provide a mountain of muscle when the time comes.

Instead, coach Jones has resorted to the kind of men, who would look comfortable in the sunshine in Portugal.


There are just seven Englishmen back from the Grand Slam game in Twickenham last March.

Ireland will draw on the experience of a dozen Grand Slam starters.

Coach Joe Schmidt would not have been too thrilled to see the selection of Robbie Henshaw leaked ahead of the announcement of the team.

As always, the reasons for the surprise are compelling and have been slow-cooked for a while.

"It's one of those things that we have seen as an option for quite some time," said Schmidt

"It's probably not as much of a surprise to Robbie and the team as it might be to other people."

More specifically, the coach wanted to have a look at Henshaw in the fifteen shirt last summer in Australia and in November.

The curse of injury caused that to be delayed. Until now.

There is a strong argument to be made that Henshaw has been a full-back all along.

However, he will have to shelve the mindset of a front door, crash centre for that of a mind-the-house full-back.

For Ireland, the original move to centre was made to compensate for shortcomings there, in the aftermath of retirements of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

Schmidt gave his convincing reasons for believing Henshaw's attributes will suit the job description.

What will the versatile 25-year-old bring to the position he has played in once out of his 37 Ireland caps and never in 32 Leinster appearances?

"I think a game intelligence. If you don't have a game intelligence, there is always a risk at fifteen because it is where the biggest spaces are,

"You have got to be able to anticipate, play really well and connect in that pendulum with the back three.

"I think he is exceptional in the air - akin to Rob Kearney."

In fairness, it does revive memories of Henshaw's excellence there for Connacht.

Schmidt refused to recognise this as a definitive decision, citing Ireland's forever full-back Kearney as less than ready earlier in the week.

The coach moved on to grasp a Henshaw moment from the past against England that opened a window into what he can provide.

"Obviously, England will remember well four years ago what was the defining moment in that win we had here ,when he went up against Alex Goode in the one-to-one in the end goal and it was quite an exceptional catch and to get the ball down was exceptional.

"He is incredibly committed, defensively. You know he will absolutely deliver at tackle time and he is a smart attacking player.

"He'll get himself into the backline and he'll offer himself as a ball-carrier or as a link player

"I think he has got the full spectrum of skills required to play in the position and we would love it if that is evident on Saturday."

The backing of Schmidt and motivation from Andy Farrell must feed Henshaw's confidence.


Ireland: R Henshaw; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong, J Ryan, D Toner, P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander. Replacements: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, Q Roux, S O'Brien; J Cooney, J Carbery, J Larmour.

England: E Daly; J May, H Slade, M Tuilagi, J Nowell; O Farrell (capt), B Youngs; M Vunipola, J George, K Sinckler, M Itoje, G Kruis, M Wilson, T Curry, B Vunipola. Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie, E Genge, H Williams, C Lawes, N Hughes; D Robson, G Ford, C Ashton.

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