McCloskey on stand-by as Schmidt gives Payne time to prove fitness
Stuart McCloskey could be in line to win his first cap for Ireland on Saturday if Jared Payne fails to recover from his hamstring injury in time to face England.
The New Zealand-born centre sat out training yesterday having participated on Monday and will undergo a fitness test before tomorrow's session to prove that he's over the Grade One strain he suffered against France.
Schmidt will hope the 30-year-old can come through, given his partnership with Robbie Henshaw and importance to Ireland's defence.
If he doesn't, the coach has a number of options, with fit-again Keith Earls having covered the centre at the World Cup and Luke Marshall in the mix after being the 24th man at both of Ireland's games to date.
However, Schmidt looks set to favour the size and off-loading ability of uncapped tyro McCloskey, whose inclusion would see Henshaw move out to the No 13 jersey at Twickenham.
With the title defence all but over, the head coach last week hinted that he would change things up and introduce some new faces and he spoke glowingly of the centre's size and hard work after training last weekend.
Tralee native Ultan Dillane looks set to win his first cap off the bench in Mike McCarthy's absence, while Josh van der Flier could be a surprise starter if the coach opts for change.
McCloskey's chances of making his bow, however, appear to depend on Payne's fitness.
"Jared has been excellent at No 13 in attack but in defence he has been really dominant. He took an early bump against the French, but he dug in really hard to stay on the pitch," forwards coach Simon Easterby said.
"We have other players that can fill in in that position. Earlsy has played there and Luke Marshall has played at 13 as well. We are keen to give Jared the opportunity to come through on Thursday and we can make a decision after that on what combinations will best fit if he doesn't make it."
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.