Ireland bring Payne back to face Italy

Jared Payne comes straight back into the Ireland team

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has wasted no time in bringing Jared Payne back and included him in the side for Saturday’s Six Nations match against Italy.

Current champions Ireland are almost certainly to lose their title as they have yet to win a match and only have a draw to show.

An opening draw with Wales has been followed by defeats against both France and England, leaving Irish hopes of a record third consecutive outright Six Nations title in tatters ahead of this weekend’s clash at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.

But coach Joe Schmidt is determined to end the campaign with home wins over Italy and Scotland rather than see the champions endure a rapid decline in the standings.

As a result he has recalled Ulster centre Payne, who missed the 21-10 loss to England with hamstring trouble, in place of Stuart McCloskey, who made his Test debut at Twickenham.

New Zealand-born Payne could have been slotted in at full-back instead of the injured Rob Kearney but Kiwi coach Schmidt has opted for a first-choice midfield pairing of Payne and Robbie Henshaw.

Simon Zebo, best known as a wing, has been selected to play at full-back in Kearney’s absence.

Ireland will be confident of returning to winning ways against an Italy side who’ve lost all three of their matches so far in this Six Nations and whose only win in Dublin was a 37-29 success back in 1997.

But by restoring Payne to the No 13 jersey as soon as possible, Schmidt — who has come under fire for a too restrictive gameplan this season — is clearly not taking any chances.

However, as far as former Leinster boss Schmidt was concerned it was all perfectly straightforward.

“I don’t know what calls there were on the outside for Jared to play full-back,” he said.

“We haven’t trained with Jared at 15 so it would be a big step for us to suddenly change that.

“Rob Kearney trained on Monday and Simon Zebo has played plenty of full-back for us,” Schmidt added.

“What we lack with Jared Payne not in the midfield has been particularly evident for us, particularly on the edge in defence.”

Ireland

Simon Zebo; Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander; Devin Toner, Donnacha Ryan; Mike Ross, Rory Best (capt), Jack McGrath

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Nathan White, Ultan Dillane, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden

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