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Henshaw's injury gives Cave chance to flourish

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

It was the kind of news that arrives with a pop, followed by the exhalation of air. Bubble burst. A hand injury suffered by Robbie Henshaw means he will not get his chance to audition for the role of No 13 in the sequel to Brian O'Driscoll's career.

The main player in the summer tour's storyline has been cruelly removed and much of the intrigue behind the plot goes with him.

The Connacht centre had been carrying a hand injury for the latter part of the season and he aggravated it in training over the past fortnight. Thus, the vacant outside centre slot will be not be filled by either of the men expected to play there at the 2015 World Cup.

This was Henshaw's chance to make the shirt his own before New Zealander Jared Payne naturalises in the autumn, just in time for the November games.

The Athlone native has spent the entire season waiting for this moment, shadowing O'Driscoll through the November internationals and the Six Nations, while only getting seven minutes against Australia as reward.

In the autumn, he was unlucky that the former captain needed games or else, one imagines, he might have been given a good run.

Working within Joe Schmidt's systems for much of the year will benefit him, but there is only so much training he can do; playing against Argentina would have acted as a neat stepping stone from his Connacht form towards seeing off Payne's claims in November.

Current Connacht coach Pat Lam said: "With Robbie, yeah, he's not in the strongest realm (at Connacht), with the strongest players around him at the moment, but those are the things which will keep him in good stead.

"When you're facing adversity all the time, there's only two ways you can go. You can go down or you can grow from it. Facing a challenge brings greatness."

While it is a major blow for Henshaw, it's also a spanner in Schmidt's works as the coach parks year one and moves to the second phase of the Ireland job.

Next year's World Cup looms large at the end of that phase and the New Zealander has not been shy about expressing his frustration around the lack of time he will spend with his players between now and September 19 next year when Ireland kick off their campaign against Canada.

The problem for Schmidt is that beneath O'Driscoll there is not a vast array of outside-centre talent lurking. Thus, the next two weeks represent a window for Darren Cave to make his mark.

Yesterday's news that Schmidt would delay naming a replacement for Henshaw until after the PRO12 final indicates the way he is thinking, with Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls likely to cover Cave on tour.

London Irish-bound centre Eoin Griffin and Leinster's Brendan Macken are next in line from the Emerging Ireland squad, while Gordon D'Arcy and Tommy Bowe are being given the summer off.

For Cave, this is the chance to back up his December comments when he said that his "face doesn't fit" in the Ireland camp.

June is the Ulster centre's time to shine, always has been. This will be the 27-year-old's fourth tour since 2009, when he made his debut against the United States and his four caps since then have all come in the summer.

He has had a fine season, coming in behind Conor Murray on the 'try assist' chart in Europe and looking a threat throughout the season.

Cave spent the spring shadowing O'Driscoll, too, but at this stage of his career, he is in make-or-break territory and he knows it. He'll want to keep Earls and McFadden as far away from that No 13 shirt as possible.

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