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Connacht's Rob Henshaw eager to beat Jared Payne in Six Nations race

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Robbie Henshaw says he wants to wear the No 13 jersey when the Six Nations campaign kicks off next month as competition for places in the Ireland midfield steps up.

The Connacht star admitted that a partnership with in-form Luke Fitzgerald could be a runner, while Jared Payne is set for an Ulster return against Treviso on Sunday if he comes through this week's training unscathed.

All the while Gordon D'Arcy remains the senior man for the inside-centre role, while Keith Earls' return from injury this week adds to Joe Schmidt's options.

Henshaw played alongside Payne at inside-centre in Ireland's win over South Africa during November, before lining up outside D'Arcy against Australia, and keeping the jersey made famous by Brian O'Driscoll is his preference.

"Absolutely, it is where I have been playing with Connacht and it's where I'm quite comfortable at the moment," the Athlone native said.

"My eyes are set on it. That's my target.

"Luke is looking really sharp and looking really good in the 13 shirt. Certainly there could be a combination there, I'm not sure what Joe's thinking is but I'm certainly looking forward to getting out training with him.

"It's a possibility. Obviously I don't mind playing in the 12 shirt either. It was a new experience for me but I enjoyed it against South Africa. I'm looking forward to it. We'll see what happens.

"I'm quite comfortable moving between the two. I've played a little bit there at 12 before.

"So once you can play 13, 12 is just another slot in and it's not too different."

Henshaw moved to dampen down speculation surrounding his future as he continues to be strongly linked with a move to Leinster at the end of this season.

It is understood that a mooted swap deal with Dominic Ryan is not on the table, with the flanker expected to commit himself to his home province in the coming weeks.

"It's people talking. I am certainly not saying anything," Henshaw said. "I just put it behind me at the moment and I just play my rugby. It's obviously out there in the media. It's all speculation.

"I am contracted with Connacht until next year. I just play my rugby and keep my head down and don't say much about it."

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