Schmidt's Six Nations blow as Payne to miss first three games
Joe Schmidt has been handed an early headache ahead of the Six Nations after it was confirmed that Jared Payne is facing three months out injured.
The centre, who had initially been a doubt before last weekend's win over Australia, was forced off at half-time.
The IRFU revealed that Payne suffered a kidney injury in the first half at the Aviva Stadium and as a result, he is facing at least three months on the sidelines.
The news will come as a major blow to Schmidt as he is likely to have to plan without Payne for Ireland's first three Six Nations games against Scotland, Italy and France.
The injury will also mean that Payne will miss Ulster's crucial back-to-back Champions Cup clashes against Clermont Auvergne as well the meetings with Exeter and Bordeaux in January.
Schmidt will hope to have the Kiwi-born centre available for Ireland's fourth game against Wales on March 10 before the showdown with England in Dublin.
The news was better for Andrew Trimble, who was also replaced early last weekend. The winger damaged a tendon in his foot which is only expected to keep him out of action for two weeks.
Meanwhile, as revealed in Wednesday's Irish Independent, Devin Toner has agreed a contract extension with the IRFU that will see him remain with Leinster until at least June 2020. Jamie Heaslip is expected to do the same soon.
"There is a huge amount of talent coming through at Leinster and it is a really exciting time to be involved with the province," Toner said.
"There is a real opportunity to be successful at both provincial and national level over the coming years and I look forward to playing a part in helping to achieve that success."
Elsewhere, Munster are understood to be interested in signing Leinster's highly rated loosehead prop Andrew Porter.