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Another shot for Bowe and more talking points from Ireland's XV for Italy

Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw partner up in the midfield, while Simon Zebo is retained at fullback.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS named his team to face Italy on Sunday in Olympic Park (KO 4.45pm).

View the full matchday 23 here.

New centre pairing

With Jared Payne having nursed a foot injury this week, Schmidt has been forced into starting a new centre partnership for the clash with Italy. After impressing so much on the wing in recent weeks, Keith Earls shifts into the 13 shirt.

Robbie Henshaw and Chris Henry Henshaw starts in the 12 shirt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Munster man shone at outside centre in Ireland’s first World Cup warm-up against Wales in August, and will hope to bring his increased physical power and improved defensive quality to bear against the Italian midfield.

Alongside Earls, Robbie Henshaw makes his World Cup debut for Ireland. There is genuine excitement at the prospect of the 22-year-old belatedly launching himself onto this stage, particularly with a view to getting him up to speed before the France clash.

Henshaw is an integral element of Ireland’s game, so often getting them beyond the gainline on first or second phase and allowing Schmidt’s team to play off a secure, clean platform.

Watching this duo combine will be fascinating, although it’s an annoyance for Schmidt that Payne and Henshaw haven’t been able to run together yet at this World Cup.

Bowe gets another shot

Tommy Bowe retains his place on the right wing this weekend. Two tries against Romania boosted the Ulsterman’s confidence and he will need to build on that display against better opposition.

Tommy Bowe Bowe starts on the right wing again for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Bowe’s aerial skills were on show against the Romanians and should prove to be important versus Italy too.

Earls and Dave Kearney still look the form choices on the wings moving forward in the competition, but Bowe can seriously question that line of thinking on Sunday.

The 31-year-old’s height and strength are always attractive to Schmidt, although Kearney and Earls have also shown that they can win the contest in the air in their most recent outings. Either way, another strong display from Bowe only adds to the excellent competition.

Zebo retained

Payne’s injury meant Schmidt had to depart from the centre pairing he had most probably planned, while the glute strain to Rob Kearney allows Simon Zebo to retain the 15 shirt after an impressive showing there against Romania.

Simon Zebo Zebo was a creative presence against the Romanians. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Munster man is a second playmaker for Ireland when he is on the pitch, a different attacking threat to Kearney altogether. His passing range and vision in identifying the opportunity to pass are major additional strengths for Schmidt’s side.

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Few players match Kearney’s ability under the high ball, although Zebo is far from a glaring weakness in that department. Defensive positioning and timing in joining the line appear to be Schmidt’s only concerns about Zebo at 15.

It’s a minor issue and Schmidt has highlighted that Zebo is improving all the time in that regard. Similarly to Bowe and the wing spots, it is only a positive for Ireland if the 25-year-old can apply pressure on Kearney in this position.

Hendo locked in

Devin Toner did his job well last weekend and was understandably pleased on a personal level, but Iain Henderson continues to be too good to ignore when Ireland name their strongest possible starting line up.

Iain Henderson tackled by Kyle Gilmour Henderson sat out last weekend's win over Romania. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A second viewing of the Canada game truly underlines how effective Henderson was, hammering into tackles, making huge repeated efforts across passages of defence, slowing the ball at ruck time and winning or aiding turnovers in the choke tackles.

With the ball, he has always been a hugely difficult proposition for tacklers and his ability to finish from close range will be a valuable asset for Ireland. The 23-year-old is the first to admit that he is still learning, making the presence of O’Connell ideal.

As with Henshaw, it’s exciting to see one of our emerging stars getting the chance to show the rest of the world exactly how much potential he has.

XV takes shape

The thinking all along has been that Schmidt would use this Italy game to unleash what is his first-choice XV, giving the key combinations game time together before that looming pool decider against France.

Paul O'Connell O'Connell is back in as captain. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Of course within the playing group, Schmidt will have insisted that eyes are not taken from the immediate challenge of beating Italy this weekend. Certainly the test for Ireland will be greater than it has been in the past fortnight, even if Italy have looked poor so far.

Ireland have momentum on their side after the wins against Canada and Romania, and Schmidt will insist on a continuation of that as we move towards a full-strength Ireland team.

Cian Healy returns to the bench after starting last weekend, though he may well return to the XV against France. Interestingly, Devin Toner is preferred to Donnacha Ryan as the back-up lock, perhaps a selection that wasn’t wholly expected.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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