Joe Schmidt On His Thinking Behind Starting Robbie Henshaw At 15 Against England


Head coach Joe Schmidt this afternoon named his Ireland team for this weekend’s Six Nations opener with England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

As reported this week, Robbie Henshaw gets the nod at fullback in an interesting positional switch, with Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose continuing their partnership in midfield.

Henshaw began his career at fullback with Connacht, but has played much of his rugby for Leinster and Ireland in the centre. In fact this will be his first game at international level at fifteen.

But what’s Schmidt’s reasoning behind it? As always with Schmidt there’s more to it than meets that the eye. And it’s been in the pipeline for quite some time.

“Robbie trained there last week, he trained in November a little bit at fullback, he actually trained there a little bit in Australia too. So it’s something that’s been an option for us for quite some time.” Schmidt said

“Rob [Kearney] ran out of time a little bit and we like the flexibility of Jordan [Larmour] on the bench, covering a number of positions [centre, wing, fullback].

“It’s one of those things we’ve seen as an option for quite some time, so it’s probably not that much of a surprise to Robbie or the team as it may be to other people.”

In terms of it being a ‘risk’ handing Henshaw his first international start at fullback in such a big game, Schmidt played it down stating if anything is lack of game time in recent weeks is the real risk.

“What’s probably more of a risk is his lack of game time full stop. He hasn’t actually played that much himself. We got to a situation where we had a few different options there. And really we felt just the way he trained when we were away and the way he’s trained this week, that it was worth pursuing. 

“Maybe even as a longer-term option… With a squad of 31 you need guys that are versatile at the World Cup. As well as the fact that Robbie is a very good player and a recognised fullback anyway.”

Schmidt also added that Rob Kearney’s poor showing on his return against Scarlets helped tip the balance in Henshaw’s favour.

“We would expect that Rob [Kearney] will continue to make progress.” Schmidt added

“He’s only really had that one game against the Scarlets. And it was probably just a bit of rustiness that we saw in that game that helped tipped the balance and give Robbie [Henshaw] that opportunity.”

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