Robbie Henshaw: ‘I’ve let a few people down in Connacht’

It was his own decision. No-one else’s.

Robbie Henshaw was very clear on that yesterday as he pulled up a chair after Ireland’s open training session in Mullingar RFC to talk through an impending switch to Leinster which was finally confirmed last Sunday evening.

It was a declaration that echoed the one made by David Nucifora before Christmas when the IRFU’s Performance Director stressed that the union could not force anyone’s hand. Which isn’t to say the decision was an easy one. Henshaw clearly agonised over it.

“An extremely tough decision for me,” the player explained. “A lot of lost sleep over it and it wasn’t an easy decision at all. It was very close in the end. Obviously I’ve been saying to myself that I’ve let a few people down in Connacht.”

That’s a heavy load to carry for a 22-year-old, though he is clearly being harsh on himself. Henshaw repeatedly stressed his affection for Connacht, his long association with the province which stretches back deep into his childhood and for those who helped craft his blue-chip career.

He could have bailed long before now given speculation of a move east has lingered virtually ever since he broke through to the senior team, but it wasn’t until a fortnight ago that all debate— internal and external— was brought to a halt and he committed himself to a new life with Leinster.

There was no one factor that tipped the balance, but rather a number of plusses that made him lean in that direction. Playing with Jonathan Sexton and so many of his international teammates was right up there, but there were off-the-field influences as well.

“For myself, it was just a couple of personal things. My girlfriend is in Dublin and I have family in Dublin, so there’s that. There’s nothing negative at all. It’s just what’s best for Robbie Henshaw. That’s the reason.”

He was nothing if not respectful of Connacht and cognisant that his impending departure will still be raw for many out west. With that in mind, he deflected away any questions on his soon-to-be new digs while any enquiries about Connacht were embraced eagerly.

Going out on a high would surely lessen the sense that he is letting people down and Connacht are well-positioned. Securing a Champions Cup place is well within their grasp via the Guinness PRO12 and they face Grenoble in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Still, his departure is a blow to Connacht’s ambitions and their quest to achieve parity in the minds of the union and the rugby populace. But whatever transpires now, he knows they are in a better place as he leaves than was the case when he joined.

“You’ve seen what Connacht have done without me this year,” he said. “They are not a one-man team. I don’t think they’re going to go downhill when I leave. The work that Pat Lam has done, the things that he’s cemented in there are unbelievable.

“His game-plan has everyone on the same page. It has clicked for us this year. It took us a couple of years to get it right. What he has done for us is unbelievable. To see the young guys coming through the academy and getting that taste for professional rugby is unbelievable.”

Henshaw has illuminated their pathway to the very top.

He has continued to impress in Ireland’s midfield alongside Jared Payne this last two weekends, even if his untimely slip late on against France in Paris last Saturday helped open the door for Maxime Medard to squirt over the line for the game-defining score.

No-one pulled him up on that. He did that himself.

When he looked back on it he felt he had over-read the situation and allowed the full-back a smidgen of space on his blindside. That margin for error shrinks ever further next week with England at Twickenham promising to be an even tougher assignment.

“They’re coming good under their new coach. George Ford and Owen Farrell: their pairing at 10 and 12 is going to be difficult for us. The two of them pass really well and they’re really good distributors. Owen Farrell can carry really hard as well, but under the new coach they’re looking good.

“We just have to be ready and physically we have to be there on the day and front up against them. Otherwise it will be a really long day. I think the boys are in a really good mood in camp now and we’re really getting back on the horse.”

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