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23rd Mar 2015

Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald offer exciting glimpse of Lions 2017 centre partnership

Getting slightly ahead of ourselves

Patrick McCarry

New Zealand here we (eventually) come.

Surely we were not the only ones thinking, 22 minutes into Ireland’s win over Scotland, that Joe Schmidt may well have stumbled on a centre partnership that would serve the country all the way to World Cup 2019.

Luke Fitzgerald may have started out on the left wing but he linked up superbly well with Robbie Henshaw, at inside centre, all day.

As early as the second minute, the pair went haring down the left flank and there really should have been an try earlier than Paul O’Connell’s. For the second time in the championship, however, Henshaw’s judgement let him down at the last moment.

Undeterred, the Irish pair continued to slice through the Scottish defence. The video [below] is a compilation of Fitzgerald’s attacking highlights but the moment that excites us most arrives 0:45 seconds in. Line breaks, defenders beaten, side-steps, offloads. Yes, please.

Henshaw and Fitzgerald made hay while the Edinburgh sun shone. Between them, they had 21 carries, made 130 metres, had four clean breaks, beat six Scotsmen and had two offloads.

Their performances offered a tantalising glimpse of what very well may be Ireland’s centre pairing for many years to come. There are a few stumbling blocks that we will first deal with before booking the duo flights to New Zealand, in 2017, and fitting them for British & Irish Lions blazers.

JARED PAYNE: The Ulster player finished the Six Nations on a high and scored his first Irish try against Scotland. Payne turns 30 this October, however, so may not be the long-term midfield solution. His versatility means Schmidt may yet look at him to provide genuine competition at fullback for Ireland.

FITZGERALD’S INJURIES: Three serious injuries in three years for the 27-year-old but he has been fighting fit for the past three months. We live in hope. As Fitzgerald says, ‘I’m in a great position now and I feel I understand my body really, really well. Barring a bit of bad luck, I feel I am in a great position to kick on.’

WING OR OUTSIDE CENTRE?: Joe Schmidt has told Fitzgerald he sees his future on the left wing. He drove that point home with his selection for Scotland. Nonetheless, Schmidt would be remiss not to pair Henshaw and Fitzgerald together in the World Cup warm-ups to see if they can recreate the cut-loose magic of Murrayfield.

Henshaw has been roundly included on the statistical, objective and subjective Six Nations team of the tournament lists. Fitzgerald has given Irish fans a taste of just how good he can be.

If the pair are given a chance to play together, and prove themselves in a winning team, they would be dead certs to make a Lions squad. Competition will come from the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Davies and Jonathan Joseph but the prospect of an all-Irish midfield taking on the All Blacks in 2017 is very much real.

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