best foot forward
Payne's 'experience and freshness' key to fullback call - Joe Schmidt
The Ireland head coach is confident Paddy Jackson will step up in Johnny Sexton’s absence.

Rory Keane reports from Cape Town

EXPERIENCE AND FRESHNESS were key factors in Jared Payne’s selection at fullback for the opening Test against South Africa, says Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

Payne has won all of his 14 Test caps at outside centre but, in the absence of Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo, Schmidt has opted for the Ulsterman to fill the void at 15.

Head coach Joe Schmidt during training Billy Stickland / INPHO Schmidt says Henshaw was 'jaded' last week. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“We thought about two other options, Tiernan O’Halloran, who had a very good end of the season, and we thought about Robbie [Henshaw] going back there but, to be honest, those two were a little bit jaded last week,” says Schmidt.

“Tiernan came in a little bit later and Robbie was pretty fatigued, he’s had the biggest mileage during the season of any of the Irish players and we just felt it was a good opportunity last week to give him a little bit of time to catch his breath.

“Therefore, it was a little bit easier for Jared to run in, he was a little bit fresher but we feel reasonably confident with any of those three. We just felt that Jared, with his experience and freshness, was the reasoning for the decision we made.”

Payne’s move to fullback is among four changes from the Irish starting XV that defeated Scotland 35-25 in the final round of the Six Nations back in March.

Luke Marshall, Jordi Murphy and Paddy Jackson have all been promoted to the first team for the clash with the Boks at Newlands.

With Johnny Sexton missing the tour due to a shoulder injury, Jackson makes his first start in an Ireland shirt since the World Cup warm-up match with Wales at the Millennium Stadium in August of last year.

Flanked by the young Ulster out-half at today’s press conference in Cape Town, Schmidt backed Jackson to cope with the challenge at Newlands:

“I’ve got Paddy alongside me here and he’s slotted in really well. I think that he’s bided his time, he’s been in camp a lot when Johnny’s been in camp so he’s seen Johnny kind of dictating the game.

Joe Schmidt Billy Stickland / INPHO Schmidt at Ireland training on Tuesday. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“He [Johnny] has been the conductor of the orchestra and we’re confident that Paddy can step up and do a similar job. I think he’s got big boots to fill, but I think his feet will slide in quite nicely.”

Ireland will face a much-changed Springboks side this weekend with livewire Lions scrum-half Faf de Klerk winning his first cap in a backline that contains a stellar cast of names including Damian de Allende, JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux, who will operate behind a monstrous pack.

In the 50th week of a World Cup season, it represents a huge challenge for Schmidt’s injury-hit squad.

“We’re hoping to get something to build on, a platform to build on to try to put some things together that give us a little bit of confidence going forward,” says Schmidt.

“You’re never going to be in a situation where everything works and transitions are seamless. You’re always going to have things to work out after that first Test. There’s a number of new personnel and we’re just hoping that we get enough confidence this weekend that we continue to build through the series.

“There’s a mix of youth and experience. We’d like to think that those combinations in the space of the two trainings we had last week and the two trainings we’ve had this week that we can put together a performance that will be the best we can do.”

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