Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw an injury doubt for crucial Scotland clash

By Sports Desk October 04, 2023

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw has emerged as an injury doubt for Saturday’s crucial Rugby World Cup showdown with Scotland in Paris.

The 30-year-old is struggling with a “niggle” and will be assessed ahead of head coach Andy Farrell naming his matchday 23 on Thursday afternoon.

Henshaw suffered a fitness setback at the start of the tournament when he was a late withdrawal from Ireland’s bench for the 82-8 win over Romania.

He subsequently came on as a replacement in the 59-16 success over Tonga and the 13-8 victory against reigning champions South Africa.

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Everyone came through training, but Robbie has a bit of a niggle and we’re finding out about that today.

“I’m sure there will be some information on that tomorrow.”

Henshaw has been providing back-up for in-form midfield duo Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.

Leinster team-mate Jimmy O’Brien, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and Munster veteran Keith Earls are among the options to take his place in Farrell’s squad to face the Scots, if he is ruled out.

Ireland will secure a quarter-final spot as Pool B winners with a victory or a draw at Stade de France, while a loss may also be sufficient for progression, depending on the scoreline and bonus points gained.

Farrell’s men are seeking a 17th consecutive success to set up a likely last-eight appointment with either hosts France or three-time champions New Zealand.

Former Ireland captain O’Connell, who represented his country at four World Cups, believes the current crop of players know how to remain in the moment and avoid being inhibited by passion or pressure.

 

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“Being able to not rely massively on emotions is a big part of it,” he replied when asked about the key to consistently backing up wins.

“It’s always a big strength of ours how much the lads love playing for Ireland, how important the history of the team is.

“But that’s kind of the icing on the cake now rather than the whole cake.

“I think probably in fairness it would have come in under Joe (Schmidt, former head coach) and that ability to focus just on what’s right in front of you and not what’s too far ahead of you.

“They’ve a big appetite around just getting better and improving, both individually and as a group.

“When the focus is all about getting better, you acknowledge the significance of what might happen if you win a game at the weekend for sure, but you’re kind of able to ignore it a little bit then as well.

“The more you understand who you are and what you stand for the easier it is to perform.

“They don’t have to build up how important the game is. We all know it and they all know it.

“They focus on getting better, they focus on the next moment, and that sometimes helps them block out some of the noise around the game.”

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    The visitors arrived in Edinburgh hoping to make it three Guinness Six Nations victories in a row, but after a bright start in which a George Furbank try helped them carve a 10-0 lead in the opening quarter of an hour.

    However, they lost their way and were put to the sword by their clinical hosts who ran out 30-21 winners.

    Van Der Merwe – who scored a double in the Scots’ win at Twickenham last year – was again England’s tormentor-in-chief as he became the first man in a dark blue jersey to score a Calcutta Cup hat-trick.

    “After a defeat and performance when you don’t think you’ve maximised your potential, it’s always disappointment,” said head coach Borthwick.

    “I don’t think the team maximised their potential today.

    “When you make that number of handling errors at this level, it’s very difficult to win, especially against a team of Scotland’s quality.

    “Ultimately we made it too easy for Scotland to score, but they were very clinical.

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    England arrived in Edinburgh on the back of one defeat in nine matches, but they received something of a reality check at the hands of a Scotland side who are more established as a team under Gregor Townsend.

    “We’d all love progression to be a nice linear path but ultimately it’s not, especially when you are trying to do it at this level,” said Borthwick.

    “What you saw is a team that is trying to develop, a team that is trying to add layers to their game.

    “We made errors today and got punished – sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. Against a team like Scotland, you don’t.

    “It’s a big learning experience, it’s a real painful lesson against a Scotland team that’s been together a long time. They had a lot of experience.

    “I think that’s the first time our 10, 12 and 13 had started together and it looked like that, didn’t it? There was a lack of cohesion and too many fundamental errors.”

    Van Der Merwe’s match-winning treble – including a stunning burst from his own half to edge the Scots ahead – took him to 26 tries for Scotland, within one of the national team’s all-time record try-scorer Stuart Hogg.

    Co-captain Rory Darge admitted it was a huge advantage to his side to have a powerful, jet-heeled outlet like the Edinburgh wing to get them up the pitch in such barnstorming fashion.

    “It’s game-changing when he has a half-opportunity, takes it and scores,” said the back-rower. “That (second try while trailing 10-7) is a massive momentum-swinger.

    “As a forward, it’s definitely nice when you’re working hard in the rucks and you see Duhan run the length. It’s such a good feeling.”

    A fortnight after their agonising home defeat by France, Darge was delighted that Scotland got their championship back on track as they made it two wins from three, with trips to Italy and Ireland to come next month.

    “It’s a very different feeling in the changing room compared to two weeks ago,” he said. “Even though there were bits we didn’t do well, to win with a nine-point margin, we’re delighted.

    “It was scrappy to start with for sure, but we weathered that. We made a few mistakes and part of that was the pressure England put us under.

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    “We had spoken about momentum through the week and when it was with us, we really leaned into it.”

    Scotland have lost only one of their last seven meetings with England, although this was Darge’s first taste of the fixture.

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    “We’re definitely delighted to get the win – it’s the Calcutta Cup,” he said. “It’s my first one so I’m delighted personally.

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    England started brightly and opened up an early 10-0 lead, with George Furbank scoring his first international try, but Steve Borthwick’s men offered little thereafter as their unbeaten start to the championship shuddered to a halt.

    Remarkably, the Red Rose have now won only one of the last seven meetings with Scotland.

    Led into battle by courageous captain Jamie George just over a week after he lost his mother to cancer, England made a strong start.

    Having forced the Scots back from the outset, the Red Rose got themselves ahead in the fifth minute when Northampton full-back Furbank – making his first start in almost two years – bounded over gleefully from close range after being played in by Elliot Daly at the end of a brilliant move.

    Scotland suffered a further setback moments later when Zander Fagerson had to go off for an HIA, although the influential prop was able to return to the fray in the 18th minute.

    By that point, England had opened up a 10-0 lead, with Ford kicking a penalty in the 15th minute.

    Scotland had been in a state of disarray for most of the opening quarter, but they suddenly sparked into life and got themselves back into the game in the 20th minute.

    Huw Jones made a dash for the line on the right and after being dragged to the ground, the centre flipped the ball up into the path of Van Der Merwe, who produced a superb piece of skill to find a gap and bolt over.

    The early wind had been removed from England’s sails and Van Der Merwe edged the Scots in front on the half-hour mark with a breathtaking score from his own half.

    As the visitors mounted an attack, Ford’s heavy pass bounced off the face of Furbank and into the hands of Jones, who instantly offloaded to Van der Merwe 60 metres out.

    The wing put on the after-burners and raced clear up the left, leaving a trail of white jerseys in his slipstream. Finn Russell added the extras before stretching the hosts’ advantage to 17-10 with a penalty shortly afterwards.

    England were wobbling, but Ford kept his cool to reduce their interval deficit to four points with an opportunist drop goal from 35 yards out.

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    A ruck ensued as Redpath was halted in his tracks, and Russell produced one of his trademark cross-field kicks out to the left for Van Der Merwe, who burst over for his hat-trick and his 26th try for Scotland.

    Ford reduced the deficit to 24-16 with a penalty in the 50th minute, but Russell put the home side firmly back in command with a couple of penalties either side of the hour mark.

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    Fin Smith – with the chance to bring his side within a converted try of victory – hit the post with the conversion, leaving the Scots nine points ahead and able to see out the remainder of the match in relatively comfortable fashion.

    Not even a yellow card in the closing moments for a tip tackle could take the shine off Van Der Merwe’s day.

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