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Dublin: 5°C Friday 14 May 2021

Unpopular Payne call, bench selection and more Ireland team talking points

Josh van der Flier gets another chance to show his ability at openside.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt this afternoon named his team to face Italy on Saturday in the Six Nations.

View the match day 23 in full here.

Payne no fallback fullback

The clamour had been for Jared Payne to return to the Ireland team in the fullback position after missing the England game, rather than in his usual outside centre slot, but Schmidt has stuck steadfastly to his guns by selecting the Ulsterman at 13.

Jared Payne Payne returns at outside centre. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Payne’s provincial season, delayed due to a foot injury sustained at the World Cup, started so impressively at fullback against Saracens and Oyonnax, which is when the calls for him to play 15 with Ireland truly picked up popularity.

Schmidt has instead opted for Simon Zebo at fullback in the absence of the hamstrung Rob Kearney, underlining that the Munster man is very much number two in the pecking order in that position.

It should be said that Zebo brought a huge amount to Ireland’s attacking game against Wales from 15, running clever lines off Johnny Sexton and producing a rare linebreak for Schmidt’s men on kick return.

However, there will be widespread disappointment that Payne has not been relocated to the backfield.

Dillane in reserve

Another hoped-for selection that hasn’t materialised is that of Ultan Dillane in Ireland’s starting second row. The Connacht man is instead held in reserve again, although this decision will probably be accepted more readily.

Ultan Dillane Dillane is kept in reserve by Schmidt. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 22-year-old was impressive off the bench against England, but it was a 15-minute block against an England defence that was tiring. Dillane seems likely to get a longer stint on the pitch for cap number two, and the sense is that Schmidt is easing the lock into the Test arena.

Dillane’s ball-carrying, hard-hitting tackles and lineout work are exciting propositions for coaching staff and supporters alike, and Schmidt feels those attributes will be best utilised in the form of a second-half impact for now.

Bench selection

Once again, the merits and form of Paddy Jackson are ignored as Schmidt opts for his long-established out-half bench option in Ian Madigan. There is likely to be mention again of Madigan’s versatility, but 24-year-old Jackson has done everything in his power to earn a shot in this Six Nations.

Paddy Jackson Jackson has trained at Carton House all campaign. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The inclusion of Fergus McFadden is perhaps the most notable bench selection of all. The Leinster man struggled as a replacement in the defeat to France and has not been in strong form for Leinster this season.

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Craig Gilroy or Stuart McCloskey surely could have added more impact late on, even if they don’t cover as many positions. Certainly McCloskey would have benefited from another Test rugby outing after his debut in London.

There is at least excitement among many fans at the prospect of seeing Kieran Marmion win his fifth Ireland cap, which would be just reward for his part in Connacht’s remarkable run of form.

Van der Flier flying

While McCloskey drops right out of the match day 23 after his debut in Twickenham and Dillane is again held in reserve, there is another starting opportunity for Leinster’s Josh van der Flier at openside.

Josh Van der Flier warms up before the match Van der Flier retains the seven shirt. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 22-year-old took his time to grow into the game against England, but showed enough to suggest that he can become a force at Test level. Schmidt has opted to keep the mobile, dogged and skillful flanker in his starting XV even when going for safer choices elsewhere.

Van der Flier is certainly one of the most exciting prospects Ireland have had in the back row – always an area of strength – for some time, and appears to be the purest openside available to Schmidt in the long term.

The former Wesley College student is extremely strong-minded and judges himself against world-class standards. Van der Flier will expect to make a far greater impact for Ireland on cap number two.

Combinations to win

The overriding impression of this Ireland selection is the need for Schmidt to register a first win of the 2016 Six Nations. After three defeats and a draw in their last four games, there is genuine pressure to achieve a positive result.

Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne with Teddy Thomas Ireland's manufactured midfield is reunited. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There is a patent lack of confidence in this Ireland squad at present, whether they are willing to admit it or not, and Schmidt recognises that it needs to change with a massive calendar year of Test rugby still ahead.

More immediately, Ireland must improve on their positioning in the Six Nations table. Currently fifth, two wins against Italy and Scotland could drive Schmidt’s men towards the top-half finish that they targeted before the championship began.

With that in mind and in opting for combinations such as Murray and Sexton, Henshaw and Payne, McGrath and Ross, and Earls and Trimble out wide, Schmidt is putting faith in those he trusts.

Nothing less than a convincing attacking performance and the knives are likely to be out for the head coach.

Source: The42 Six Nations Show/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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