Tommy Bowe backs Jared Payne to silence critics as Rob Kearney doubts grow for Italy
Tommy Bowe has launched a strong defence of his Ireland team-mate Jared Payne, who came in for stinging criticism from former Leinster coach Matt Williams on Sunday.
Speaking on TV3, Williams said Joe Schmidt has "huge issues" at centre as a result of what he perceives as Payne's poor form, saying he's ticking "just about every box for doing things wrong as an outside-centre in attack".
"I know Matt, I was coached by him," Bowe said. "Maybe he's just playing the 'bad cop' role on TV.
"The players would be very confident in Jared's ability. I don't think he'll be getting too upset. We know what a talented player Jared is. He has a lot of time on the ball and he makes it easy for the people inside and outside him to play with, because he's so consistent.
"His communication is very good from a defensive point of view and he's probably one of the best passers in the squad. He has a bit of X-factor about him, he's a key part of the squad."
Rob Kearney last night underwent a scan on the glute injury he suffered when scoring against Romania and is a major doubt for Italy, but it is hoped Keith Earls will be available.
Jordi Murphy has a dead leg, but Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony and Iain Henderson are all expected to train today. Simon Zebo will re-join the squad this afternoon after returning home on compassionate leave after the death of his grandfather.