Simon Zebo set to start at 15 against Italy with Stuart McCloskey likely to miss out
Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30
Rob Kearney's troublesome hamstring looks set to rule him out of another Six Nations game after the Leinster full-back sat out Ireland training at Carton House yesterday.
Despite Jared Payne's return to full fitness, it appears likely that Joe Schmidt will ignore calls to play the New Zealand-born player at full-back and will restore him to the midfield alongside Robbie Henshaw for Saturday's game against Italy, with Simon Zebo the favourite to replace Kearney in the No 15 jersey as he did in the opening round draw against Wales.
Payne's return is likely to see Stuart McCloskey miss out on a starting spot after making his debut against England and the Ulster native is fighting for a place on the bench.
Eoin Reddan could also miss out on the meeting with the Italians after suffering a calf issue, meaning Kieran Marmion would come on to the Ireland bench as cover for Conor Murray who will again partner Johnny Sexton.
Kearney has had trouble with his hamstring for much of this season and pulled up with the injury at the end of Monday's training session at Carton House.
Scrum coach Greg Feek couldn't confirm whether this latest issue was a fresh injury or a recurrence of the previous problem as he gave an injury bulletin yesterday.
Aside from the changes to his backline, Schmidt is expected to resist further changes for Saturday's penultimate Six Nations game as he goes in search of a first win in 2016.
That means second-row Ultan Dillane may be used as an impact sub again, while Josh van der Flier should keep his place at openside flanker.
The head coach may shake up his front-row options to keep things fresh for the final game against Scotland when he names his team to face the Italians tomorrow, but it appears the victory will take precedence over the introduction of new faces.