Garry Ringrose faces axe as Jared Payne lined up for centre role in title endgame
Jared Payne is being lined up by Joe Schmidt for an immediate return to Ireland's Six Nations title tilt after being named to start his first game since suffering a serious rib injury in November.
With doubts concerning Rob Kearney's fitness still lingering, the stylish Ulster man would be viewed as a natural replacement at full-back after making his comeback off the bench for his province last weekend.
However, Payne's selection at centre for Ulster's home clash with Treviso tonight suggests that head coach Schmidt is contemplating a midfield role for his fellow Kiwi as Ireland complete their campaign against Wales and England on successive weekends. Garry Ringrose has featured for Ireland throughout the championship at No 13, alongside Robbie Henshaw.
But Schmidt has had no compunction in re-introducing on-field generals when they have become available after injury, as evidenced by the successful return of Jonathan Sexton against France.
Schmidt sees Payne as one of his key organisers, particularly in defence, and he views the Welsh and English challenges as potentially the two most difficult yet in his squad's title charge.
"The Welsh backs are particularly big and strong," he has said. "I wouldn't be big in favour of matching like for like necessarily, because we want to concentrate on what we are doing. What this does afford us is the luxury of taking a big interest in provincial matches. Wales will put on a different sort of pressure than France did. They have got very big backs.
"They bring a slightly different equation, so while you might be making progress in one facet of the game, other facets of the game then get tested by different opponents."
Aside from Payne, Schmidt also announced squad recalls for fit-again out-half Joey Carbery and back-row Jack Conan along with Munster loosehead Dave Kilcoyne.
Ian Keatley and Tommy Bowe lose out, while Ultan Dillane had originally been a surprise omission, but the IRFU clarified that his name was left out in error.
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