Darren Cave ready to step out of the shadows
Schmidt has choice from Henshaw, Cave or Payne for 13
It is now or never for Darren Cave.
"Unfortunately, for me internationally, the last few years haven't gone that well and sometimes you wonder does the face not fit," said Cave.
"I've read that I'm not established for Ulster or inexperienced at international level or, for some reason, not good enough to be an international rugby player.
"I don't know how these people see that, as I've never really had a good crack at doing it."
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt moved to mend bridges by repeating Cave's subsequent claim that the article responsible, in the Belfast Telegraph, had been taken out of context.
As always, Schmidt chose to make a plea for peace and remind the Irish rugby community that his decisions are based solely on what gives Ireland the best chance of winning, not on a leaning towards his former Leinster players.
"He's (Cave) got a couple of things that he's working on. He's pretty positive about the clarity that he's got," said the coach.
Six months later, Ulster wing Andrew Trimble had come from somewhere close to nowhere to land a Six Nations Championship and pick up the award as Ireland's Player of the Season.
It could just be Cave's turn to take his international chance.
Assuming all are fit and available, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip are assured of their jerseys.
Among them, there is a discussion to be had over where Henshaw will best serve Ireland given how Schmidt could invite Jared Payne or Cave to thirteen or the evergreen Gordon D'Arcy to twelve.
The sight of the naturalised Payne placed at full-back for Ulster against Toulon and Leicester Tiger in playing-for-pride predicaments in the last two rounds of the Champions Cup does not bode well for him.
Schmidt's reservations about his fellow New Zealander, a skilful operator at fifteen and thirteen, playing in the latter position for the guts of a season at Auckland Blues, could have centred around his physicality.
Payne demonstrated his willingness to confront the combative South Africans in November, an enemy that trades primarily on winning the gain line.
Sadly, the price he paid was great as a foot injury ruled him out of the game until his recent return in mid-January.
He had lost the time to hone his skills in the position as Henshaw's natural partner.
The hot form of Cave for Ulster culminated in a hat-trick of tries against The Tigers for his seventh try in his last ten matches in what could have been the tipping point for his promotion over Payne
Were Schmidt seriously considering Payne at outside centre, he would surely have called him forward for The Wolfhounds.
The logical deduction is that Payne will be kept in reserve as the utility option.
If Schmidt has been convinced by Cave's attention to tailor his game to Ireland requirements, it would mark a complete turnaround in their working relationship from one on the brink of breaking to one revitalised by Cave's form.
Des Berry's Ireland (v Italy): R Kearney; T Bowe, D Cave, R Henshaw, S Zebo; I Madigan, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Moore, D Toner, P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.