Friday 6 December 2019

Schmidt lays down centre gauntlet to Henshaw and Payne

Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne during an open training session
Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne during an open training session
Paul O'Connell at the Irish training session yesterday
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JOE SCHMIDT has challenged Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne to prove their worth having selected the duo to face South Africa in tomorrow's opening November international.

The Ireland coach confirmed the surprise centre partnership, first revealed in Wednesday's Irish Independent, would start against the in-form Springboks yesterday and said the pair have the attributes to handle the stage.

Connacht star Henshaw (21) will win his fourth cap at the Aviva Stadium alongside New Zealand-born Payne (29) and the pair are up against the highly regarded combination of Jean de Villiers and Jan Serfontein and will be learning on the job having first partnered up in training last week.

Their coach wants them to rise to the challenge. "They want to be measured by it and I'm looking forward to seeing how they measure up," he said.

"It's incredibly difficult, there's no soothsayer, no-one who can predict how it will go but we can influence how it will go by the preparation and that continuity through three or four trainings as a pairing. Hopefully that's sufficient to give them the confidence to link well and perform well.

"What I saw of both of them is an ability to carry ball, an ability to distribute ball, an ability to work hard defensively and be physical defensively.

"To make a pairing of them, I don't think that's going to happen overnight. I think, inevitably, there are going to be things that we progress from this Saturday through the succeeding weekends, and there will be changes through the succeeding weekends.

"This combination obviously won't last throughout the series but I'm reasonably excited about seeing how they do adapt and equip themselves in an incredibly challenging environment."

Schmidt paid tribute to odd man out Gordon D'Arcy, saying the Leinsterman remains in his plans, while he also expressed confidence in Mike Ross's ability to make it through 80 minutes.

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