Robbie Henshaw set to start at fullback against England

Leinster back expected to move to 15 with Bundee Aki likely to get the nod at inside centre

Robbie Henshaw is expected to move from centre to fullback against England this weekend. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Robbie Henshaw is expected to move from centre to fullback against England this weekend. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

There are strong indications that Ireland will play Robbie Henshaw at fullback against England on Saturday in the Six Nations opener at the Aviva stadium.

The 25-year-old has won all but one of 36 caps at centre, the exception being his debut against the USA in the summer of 2013.

Initially a fullback by trade, since establishing himself in the Connacht team as a teenager, Joe Schmidt had converted the Athlone native to an outside centre with a view to succeeding Brian O’Driscoll come the 2015 World Cup.

However, the arrival of Jared Payne, the Kiwi qualifying for Ireland via residency, saw Henshaw shifted to inside centre. The partnership with Payne clicked until injury and the emergence of Garry Ringrose saw the Irish midfield landscape change once again.

“I think (Schmidt) knows that I have played plenty of rugby there,” said Henshaw in November. “Where he can get the best out of me is where he will play me.”

An abundance of riches at centre, where Bundee Aki is the incumbent 12 and Chris Farrell looks a genuine contender having excelled for Munster, means Schmidt and incoming head coach Andy Farrell are keen to get all their in-form players on the pitch at the same time.

Seemingly, Henshaw’s return to the back field was to happen in the November Test window but a hamstring injury kept him out of action until Leinster’s victory over Wasps on January 20th.

Leinster did play Henshaw at fullback during the Pro14 fixture in Treviso on October 27th.

Rob Kearney remains a senior figure in Ireland camp but a quad injury ruled him out of both Champions Cup ties in January and Friday’s 60 minute return against Scarlets was noticeable for some uncharacteristic missed tackles.

Meanhile the Ireland squad were in Portugal, where Will Addison and Jordan Larmour - the other contenders to play fullback - prepped for England.

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