Schmidt set to go with experience for Chicago clash against All Blacks as Kearney set for start
Joe Schmidt looks set to resist the temptation to pitch Garry Ringrose in from the start against New Zealand on Saturday and instead pick the Leinster centre on the bench.
That means the Ireland coach will go with experience for the first November international, with Rob Kearney restored to the full-back jersey and Jared Payne starting in the centre alongside Robbie Henshaw.
Kearney missed the summer tour to South Africa and watched from afar as the Ulster player starred in his position, but he now looks ready to win his 70th cap and line up opposite Ben Smith.
Simon Zebo is set to come in for the injured Keith Earls on the left wing, with Andrew Trimble retaining his place on the wing and Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray at half-back.
Up front, Jordi Murphy looks set to hold on to the No 7 shirt with Schmidt retaining the back-row that started the first and third Tests in South Africa in June, while Donnacha Ryan could get the nod ahead of Ultan Dillane to partner Devin Toner.
The front-row will be made up of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong, with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Finlay Bealham covering on the bench, with Dillane and Josh van der Flier poised to add impact during the second-half.
That bench could have as many as three uncapped Leinster backs with Joey Carbery covering Sexton, Ringrose in the No 23 shirt and Luke McGrath the replacement scrum-half.
McGrath would be a surprise inclusion as Kieran Marmion is the more experienced player at international level, but he is thought to be pushing hard for a starting spot.
Possible Ireland team: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; D Toner, D Ryan; CJ Stander, J Murphy, J Heaslip. Reps: S Cronin, C Healy, F Bealham, U Dillane, J vd Flier, L McGrath, J Carbery, G Ringrose.