Tony Ward: Schmidt must take plunge and switch Payne to full-back
Published 27/09/2016 | 02:30
Things are looking pretty good for Ulster, Leinster and Munster as the more serious stuff comes into view - particularly Ulster.
I do not envy Les Kiss his task of picking his best team when he has a full complement available.
The match-day squad that won in Glasgow on Saturday was missing Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Marcell Coetzee (potentially CJ Stander-like in terms of ball carrying and off-loading ability), Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble and the fast emerging Jacob Stockdale.
Any one of the back three in action at Scotstoun could be deemed the best full-back in the country. Compared to the other three provinces, Jared Payne, Charlie Piutau and Louis Ludik are in a different league when it comes to attacking.
I suspect that it may have been at Joe Schmidt's insistence that Payne was wearing No 15 in Glasgow. For me, the adopted Kiwi is by far the most complete full-back available to Ireland (under the residency rule).
Much will depend of course on the midfield combination, but if it were up to me, Payne would already be inked in at No 15 against the All Blacks in Chicago in a little over a month's time.
Surely the organisation and communication Payne brings to the outside channel when wearing No 13 can still be maximised at No 15, even allowing for what that restructure entails?
I agree with the notion that you should get your best 15 players on to the field, but I feel that can be achieved with Payne in the position where he is potentially most effective.
And mention too of Paddy Jackson, a player for whom I have long had massive regard. I love his temperament and his ability to link play, as well as his kicking game.
Jackson reminds me more of David Humphreys, his predecessor in the Ulster and Ireland playmaking position, than Ronan O'Gara or Johnny Sexton, great out-halves both.
When Humphreys was at his best he was close to the complete out-half. Humphreys asked far more searching questions of the opposition back-row defence.
Jackson is reaching that stage now; no longer does he need protection inside (from Ruan Pienaar) and out (Luke Marshall/ Darren Cave).
He is his own man and while Sexton is still in pole position for the big November internationals, Jackson is offering a serious challenge.
In recent years, Ian Madigan has generally pipped Jackson for a place on the Ireland bench, thanks to his greater versatility, but it is no longer an open and shut case.
I hope Madigan will still be considered on merit following his move to Bordeaux - just as Sexton was when he was playing in France - but given Jackson's form of late the goal posts have shifted significantly.
And don't forget about Joey Carbery, despite his rookie status. Graham Henry was really taken by the emerging No 10 during his brief summer spell with Leinster.
I'm not suggesting that he is ready for international selection, but certainly when Sexton is on Autumn Test duty, Carbery will have a chance to gain precious game-time for Leinster.
To me, the early-season out-half pecking order has Sexton in front albeit by a short head from Jackson followed by Madigan and Carbery (who is well worth extended squad inclusion).
Sexton was at the heart of a very impressive 60 minutes from Leinster against the Ospreys on Friday.
From an Irish perspective, there were good performances too from Cian Healy (although he is still clearly second-choice loosehead prop for province and country behind to Jack McGrath), Tadhg Furlong and especially Josh van der Flier.
Bear in mind that Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony have yet to return to competitive action, it gives some idea of the quality available to Ireland in the back-row. It's going to be some scramble for that plane to the States.
Mention too of Garryowen and Munster flanker Conor Oliver. I love his abrasive yet intelligent style, whether with the ball or without. I expect Rassie Erasmus' influence to be significant.
As with his former Blackrock schoolmate Carbery, watch his game develop with increasing if splintered Pro12 time.
Oh and just for the record, as someone who thrived on it in his day, the Munster scrum for an hour on Saturday was an object of pure beauty!
'Wes' live up to motto
At lunchtime on Saturday, I enjoyed the privilege along with 200-plus invited guests of attending the official opening by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny of the magnificent new Old Wesley facility in Donnybrook.
I'm not sure 'state of the art' does the new clubhouse justice, as articulated by the Taoiseach in his witty luncheon speech.
The appreciative words of IRFU president and former international referee Stephen Hilditch, as well as Old Wesley president Dave Pierce, paved the way for this official kick-off to the 125-year celebration of a truly great club.
'A club for life' is the motto and given the new Wes facility and recently installed pitches, that certainly resonates.
With Cork club Dolphin the opposition for an Ulster Bank League Division 1B contest - which incidentally Old Wesley won 21-10 - the former greats present included Phil Orr, Norman Coleman Snr, Barry McGann, Bobby Macken, Alan Doherty, Willie Coulter, Dave Bursey and Micky Quinn.