Sunday 17 December 2017

Brian O'Driscoll is pretty sure what Ireland's first choice midfield will be for the Six Nations

Robbie Henshaw, left, and Jared Payne
Robbie Henshaw, left, and Jared Payne

Tom Rooney

Joe Schmidt may not have heeded his calls to include Garry Ringrose in Ireland’s Six Nations squad, but Brian O’Driscoll is confident as to who will comprise the Kiwi’s first choice midfield in the coming months.

As Ireland ready to re-emerge following another disappointing World Cup campaign, curiosity is rife as to whether Joe Schmidt will alter his traditional selection policy in certain positions in a bid to expand Ireland’s offensive palate.

No more so than in the centre. Unquestionably a footballer of some repute, Jared Payne has become the poster boy for Schmidt’s systematic, low-risk mode of attack. This, of course, has not been to everyone’s taste, even if it did deliver consecutive Championships.

After a sustaining a foot injury during the World Cup, the naturalised Kiwi’s defensive stability was certainly missed, but in the spirit of change, many have hoped to see some new faces in the centre as Ireland build towards Japan in 2019.

Along with Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, Ulster’s offloading destroyer, has been touted as a potential partner for Robbie Henshaw who, in turn, would don the number 13 jersey. Luke Fitzgerald, too, is a viable option, given his form for Leinster at first centre. Although a knee injury means he may not be available for the visit of Gatland and co.

Since returning from the aforementioned injury, Payne has been deployed at full-back for Ulster. It does not take a tactical savant to recognise that he is a far more potent threat when stationed there, and could offer a greater dynamism than long time incumbent Rob Kearney.

When asked on Twitter if he thought McCloskey might be set for a first cap and, indeed, start, in Ireland’s Championship opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium a week from Sunday, O’Driscoll’s answer was resounding.

The four-time Lion is of the opinion that Schmidt will revert to the centre pairing he has favoured since O’Driscoll retired from the international game close to two years ago.

So, is it to be Henshaw and Payne again? If so, do you agree ?

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