Joe Schmidt: Moving Robbie Henshaw to full-back done with one eye towards World Cup

Joe Schmidt: Moving Robbie Henshaw to full-back done with one eye towards World Cup

Joe Schmidt admits that the decision to start Robbie Henshaw at full-back against England in Saturday's Six Nations opener has been made with one eye on the upcoming World Cup in Japan.

The Leinster back has been handed his first international start in the 15 jersey since his Test debut, against the USA, back in 2013. Regular full-back Rob Kearney has been omitted entirely from the matchday 23 with a lack of match fitness offered as cause by the Ireland head coach.

Henshaw, who has just an hour of rugby to his credit since November due to injury, spent the early part of his career with Connacht at full-back but has been used almost exclusively at centre by Leinster and Ireland in recent years.

As he was in the latter end of his days out west in Galway.

His switch of position here had been reported earlier this week but this is still something of a curveball from a coach who doesn't see the move as a risk in the context of his limited recent experience in the back field.

“Probably more of a risk is his lack of game time. We had a few options there ... Maybe even as a longer term option, with 31 guys going to a World Cup, you need guys to be versatile so there is some of that and Robbie is a good player as well.”

This, he said, was a move he had long planned.

“Robbie trained last week and in November a little bit at full-back and he actually trained there in Australia (last summer) as well. He has been an option for us for some time there. Rob (Kearney) just ran out of time and we like the options Jordan (Larmour) give us off the bench.

“It's one of those things that we have seen as an option for some time so it's probably not as much of a surprise to Robbie and the team as it might be to other people.”

Schmidt revealed that Kearney is “coming up to speed” in training but added that he had shown some rustiness for Leinster against Scarlets last week. Schmidt suggested that he had basically run out of time in a bid to make the opener.

Sean O'Brien, like Kearney, is recently returned from an injury hiatus and makes the bench from where Schmidt believes he will be able to impact the game with his explosiveness and game intelligence.

Another selection of note is the presence on the bench of Munster loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne who has overcome the challenge of Leinster's Jack McGrath in the race to deputise for first-choice Cian Healy.

Ireland: R Henshaw; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong; D Toner, J Ryan; 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.

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