Sport Six Nations

Saturday 25 November 2017

Jared Payne in line for return with Rob Kearney now a doubt for Wales test

Jared Payne: Being assessed. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jared Payne: Being assessed. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Jared Payne could be in line for a shock return to Ireland by the end of the Six Nations, after he came back from his kidney injury for Ulster yesterday.

The experienced centre hadn't played since November before coming on for the final quarter of the northern province's 40-17 win over Zebre in Italy and Schmidt will review the footage of that game before deciding whether to call him back in.

Ireland's need for Payne may be greater after Rob Kearney limped out of Saturday's win over France with an adductor strain.

It's the latest problem the luckless Leinster full-back has had to endure this season and he is once again in a race to be fit for a big game, having overcome a bicep injury to play last weekend.

"Rob's foot slipped away on him, just on the slippery surface," Schmidt said. "He was a little uncomfortable in the adductor so we'll see how that is over the next 24/48 hours and if it continues to niggle away then we'll get it scanned. I don't think there was anything other than that."

Schmidt confirmed he would assess Payne and other players who played provincial action before assembling more than 30 players in Dublin today for a mini-camp, to begin preparations for the first Friday night Test match Ireland have ever been involved in.

They'll hold an open training session at the Aviva Stadium and the squad picture will be far clearer at that point.

Simon Zebo switched to full-back from the wing on Saturday and could do the same in Cardiff if Kearney fails to make it, but Payne offers an alternative having started in the No. 15 jersey in the first and second Tests in South Africa last summer.

The New Zealander has won 17 of his 19 caps in the centre and has been one of the key members of Schmidt's side, but the coach singled out Garry Ringrose for praise after the game and may be reluctant to break up his budding partnership with Robbie Henshaw.

Although Sean O'Brien appeared to come off for a head injury assessment during the second-half, Schmidt said the openside's withdrawal was a "tactical" decision.

A win over Wales in Cardiff would take Ireland's title hopes down to the final day and Schmidt conceded that it would be a let-down if that didn't happen.

Although he was speaking before yesterday's bizarre bonus-point win for champions England at home against Italy, the Ireland coach is expecting the finale to be tight.

"I probably haven't done the maths that far ahead, just because we tried to stay really focused on the immediate challenge," he said of the potential scenarios.

"The Championship isn't too different with the bonus points or not, probably because we picked up a bonus point in Scotland and Italy and England haven't picked up a bonus point yet (before yesterday).

"They've had two super tough games and we've got Wales away to come, so we're not actually thinking about anything back here at the end of the championship yet, because it will appeal a lot less to us if it's not for the Championship. That means we have to go to Wales and get a result.

"The Championship is super. I saw some basketball results (in Super Rugby) this morning and there's not too many of those.

"It is massively intense and it has certainly got coaches on the edge of our seats and players working incredibly hard to make sure that they deliver as best they can," Schmidt added.

Irish Independent

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