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Joe Schmidt has shown faith in the centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw (21) and debutant Jared Payne (29), to make an impact against South Africa.

There had been an either/or scenario offered up by Schmidt in recent weeks, never the prospect of both men making the midfield with Gordon D'Arcy set to continue at twelve.

The Henshaw-Payne axis was trialled at the start of last week. By the time D'Arcy had come through his rehabilitation, the coach had made his mind up on the matter.

Now, Schmidt has taken a leap of faith in Henshaw, not only to play him, but to play him at 12 having spent this season flitting between 15 and 13.

"He's as ready as he's going to be after three caps and I think he'll be more ready after 10 caps. That's the nature of it," said Schmidt.

"We all know that, when you're put in a circumstance that you haven't been in often, that you're a little bit more tense, a little bit more uncomfortable.

"That does dissipate a little although tension is forever relevant for any Test match player.

"I think we will see continued improvement, but when do you start that staircase?

"We need to start now with Robbie and a number of other guys and that's why through this series there will be changes week to week."

Schmidt sees South Africa as an even bigger test than that from New Zealand last year.

"To be absolutely frank this is a fresh team, fresh off the plane," he said.

"We got the All Blacks after 14 Test matches, probably with an eye to getting back and getting a rest. I think we probably did catch them on the hop a little. bit in that first half."

"I think we merited a fair bit of what we got but we also got a little bit lucky that they were a bit under par on the day."

From there, Ireland travelled the highways and byways to a Six Nations Championship.

It seems like a long time ago. The nature of international rugby means Schmidt is not quite sure where they are now.

"For us, it's really important to find out where we are because the one thing I would always say is that high performance is never completely consistent.

"There are times when you dip and reload again. We're hoping that it's not a dip, that we've reloaded and we can go again.

"But, we are missing some personnel who would have had quite a strong influence on the confidence of the team and the continuity of the team on the basis that they had been together a whole lot more often."

This time, South Africa's Victor Matfield has pushed the significance of being less than one year away from the World Cup.

Unlike New Zealand last November, they are here on a mission.

"I just don't see that happening with the Springboks," said Schmidt.

"I think they, particularly the last 90 minutes of rugby they played, have been incredibly good and I think it's going to be very difficult to knock them over, even if we come up with our best performance."