Jackson set to get the nod for Ireland while Schmidt forced to break up the Henshaw/Payne axis
Published 09/06/2016 | 02:30
Paddy Jackson looks set to start at out-half for Ireland against South Africa on Saturday but a number of key selections remain unclear ahead of Joe Schmidt's team announcement this afternoon.
In particular, the make-up of the back five of the scrum and the decision on who will play at full-back at Newlands are the biggest talking points as the New Zealander makes up his mind whether to break up his preferred midfield partnership in order to fill the gap left by Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo's absences.
It would be a major shock if Jackson did not partner Conor Murray at half-back, given he was selected ahead of Ian Madigan for the squad before Johnny Sexton got injured, and Schmidt may opt to pair his Ulster team-mates Luke Marshall and Jared Payne in the centre.
That would mean Robbie Henshaw moving to full-back, with Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls expected to line up on the wings.
Up front, Schmidt is almost certainly going to opt for the experienced trio of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross in the front-row, with Devin Toner also nailed on for a berth in the second-row.
The make-up of the rest of the pack will be interesting, with some suggestion he could start Ultan Dillane for the first time and deploy Iain Henderson on the blindside. That would see CJ Stander switch to the openside, with Jamie Heaslip at No 8.
Another option would be to keep Dillane on the bench, with Rhys Ruddock or Jordi Murphy coming into the No 7 shirt as Stander remains at No 6.
Richardt Strauss could edge Sean Cronin to a place on the bench, while Finlay Bealham and Tadhg Furlong are expected to cover the props; Donnacha Ryan and Ruddock could be asked to cover the second and back-rows if Henderson starts at No 6.
It will be intriguing to see if Kieran Marmion's end-of-season form has been enough to see him leap-frog Eoin Reddan, while Madigan is up against Stuart Olding for the No 22 jersey and probably edges it due to his goal-kicking ability.
Craig Gilroy could be a surprise choice to cover the last position on the bench, with Henshaw able to move into the centre if needs be.
South Africa name their team 45 minutes after Ireland, with Pat Lambie expected to get the nod at out-half.
Meanwhile, a planned protest at the Cape Town venue has been called off after the South African rugby union and the ANC's Youth League reached an agreement yesterday.