Jared Payne named at centre while Simon Zebo gets nod for Italy clash
Joe Schmidt has reinstated Jared Payne at outside centre and selected Simon Zebo at full back in place of the injured Rob Kearney for Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Italy on Saturday.
The introduction of Payne and Zebo are the only two changes from the XV that started the 21-10 loss to England a fortnight ago.
The Champions are yet to record a win this season and it appears as though the Kiwi coach has reverted to a tried and tested approach in a bid to break that particular duck.
In a move that many will lament as needlessly cautious, Schmidt has opted to bring Payne straight back in to the midfield with Robbie Henshaw, instead of giving the Ulster back a much discussed run at full back.
Due to Payne’s injury enforced absence, Stuart McCloskey had been drafted in at first centre for the England defeat, and formed a dynamic midfield pairing with Henshaw, who will once more don the number 12 jersey against the Azzuri at the Aviva Stadium. McCloskey drops out of the match day squad altogether with Fergus McFadden getting the number 23 jersy.
Zebo has deputised for Kearney regularly since before the World Cup and will make his second start of the campaign in between Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls in a back three that is otherwise unchanged.
The incumbent half back pairing of Conor Murray and Johnathon Sexton is retained, but Kieran Marmion comes into the squad for the injured Eoin Reddan. Once more Ian Madigan has been preferred to Paddy Jacksin as back up to Sexton.
In the pack, Rory Best captains the side from hooker and is joined in the front row again by Leinster props Jack McGrath and Mike Ross.
Despite his explosive cameo in Twickenham, Connacht’s Ultan Dillane has not been able to oust Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner from the second row, though is almost certain to get game time.
Josh Van Der Flier will win his second cap at open side as CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip complete the back row. On the bebnch, Sean Cronin is preferred to Richardt Strauss as replacement hooker while Rhys Ruddock gets the nod ahead of Tommy O'Donnell.
Ireland team to face Italy: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, J vd Flier, J Heaslip.
Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Nathan White, Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht), Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan , Fergus McFadden.