Champions Cup quarter-final
Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 3.15pm
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
TV: BT Sport/beIN Sports/Sky Italia
Bet: Leinster 8/15, Wasps 8/5, Draw 22/1
Robbie Henshaw’s journey from west coast to east was the worst-kept secret in Irish rugby long before the decision to leave Connacht was confirmed just over a year ago and Leinster’s date with Wasps in Dublin this weekend stands as early vindication of that move.
It’s not that Connacht were miles away from a Champions Cup quarter-final themselves.
After all, one drop goal or another penalty away to Toulouse in January and it would have been Pat Lam’s side and not the French giants pitching up at Thomond Park this weekend.
That would have been a tough one to miss, but Leinster was the savvy career move.
Ten times in the last 13 seasons now they’ve made the knockout stages of the European Cup - they’ve claimed three Heineken Cups as well as a Challenge Cup on one of the three occasions they were eliminated early.
It’s for days like this that Henshaw made a beeline for the capital.
“The atmosphere is going to be incredible,” said the 23-year old Ireland centre this week.
“It is going to be two quality teams going hard at each other. For me, personally, it is my first quarter-final in the Champions Cup so it is all positive and it is all exciting.”
Henshaw isn’t the most expressive of talkers when it comes to the media, but even the grind of speaking in the careful code of a professional sportsman didn’t seem like a chore as he contemplated the blue skies overhead and the storm clouds of an all-or-nothing European clash to come.
Leinster may have home advantage this weekend, but that hasn’t been enough to make some bookies separate the sides.
This is a Wasps team that has money behind it, a superb coaching ticket, star players, a dynamic and physical pack, multiple playmakers and finishers with blinding pace. They’re pretty good, basically.
As a force, they may not quite be at the level of Leinster at their peak, or the Toulon or Saracens sides of recent vintage, but they are charting a graph that suggest they are getting there. Leinster may well be plotting a similar course, hence the bookmakers’ hesitancy.
Leinster’s progress since Wasps hit them for 50 points at the Ricoh Arena in January is obvious when scanning through the list of players likely to feature this time at the Aviva Stadium and for whom this whole fuss will be something new.
Jamison Gibson-Park, Rory O’Loughlin, Adam Byrne or Dan Leavy had not played a single European tie before this year.
Add to that Tadhg Furlong, Luke McGrath, Ross Molony, James Tracy, Adam Byrne, and even Josh van der Flier, all of whom made their debuts only last season. Not all of them are even likely to make the 23 this week.
The worry is that Wasps are further down their road than Leinster are theirs at this point, but the hosts go into the tie on the back of just one defeat in their last 13 competitive fixtures and with a host of senior Ireland players returning to stiffen the central spine.
“There are a few young, new faces in here this time,” said Henshaw.
“We are playing with a lot of confidence, our attacking game is quality. We have shown that in the league, we have scored a lot of tries, so it’s just about going out there and executing to the best of our ability.
“Our attack is pretty good. On the other side, our defence has to be world-class this week. Wasps are top of the Premiership and they have scored a lot of tries, an average of four a game, and they have scored the most in the Premiership.
“We know the challenge that is coming for us. They have wheels on the edges, they have ball-players like [Danny] Cipriani and [Jimmy] Gopperth, so we need to be on our toes. We need to be ready for what’s coming at us, along with their dynamic ball-carriers in the pack.”
For the winners, a trip to France awaits in the semis, either against Clermont Auvergne at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland in Lyon, or Toulon at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice.
Top-class opposition, exotic venues full of passionate fans and hard ground: Henshaw has it all to play for.