Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rob Kearney and Jared Payne still doubts for Italy clash

Schmidt set to pick his best team to play Italy

Ireland centre Jared Payne (pictured) and full-back Rob Kearney are both injury doubts for the World Cup clash with Italy on Sunday
Ireland centre Jared Payne (pictured) and full-back Rob Kearney are both injury doubts for the World Cup clash with Italy on Sunday

Jared Payne has joined Rob Kearney as Ireland's main injury concerns ahead of the set-to with Italy at The Olympic Stadium.

The outside centre must prove his fitness today to stand any chance of being retained for Sunday.

"Jared Payne didn't train," revealed scrum doctor Greg Feek yesterday.

"He's just got a bit of a bruise on his foot. He didn't train, so we'll see how he goes for the rest of the week."

This comes at just the wrong time for the 29 year-old in light of the controversial comments made by Matt Williams on his performances in the jersey once held on a long-term lease by Brian O'Driscoll.

These remarks were quickly, and tellingly, countered by Tommy Bowe and Darren Cave, two former players under Williams during his short tenure at Ulster.

Ideally, the man from Tuaranga would want to prove the 'doubting Matts' wrong with an authoritive and action-packed showing against the resilient Italians.

There is the distinct possibility that won't happen now.

It does, however, further open up the debate on the identity of the next in line to wear the venerable shirt.


After all, coach Joe Schmidt does not like to introduce men late into the week as it can have a destabilising effect on preparations.

There is a school of thought that Keith Earls could do even more damage if he were given the ball more often closer to the heart of the action.

It is the Munster wing's reluctance to part with the ball at high speed that has made him a natural down the left flank. He is much more a try-taker rather than a try-maker.

What about Cave? The Ulsterman infamously spoke of how he felt his face didn't fit for Ireland closer to the beginning of Schmidt's reign.

The coach has not held it against him and they have long made their peace on that count.

Cave was something of a surprise inclusion in the Ireland World Cup squad and acquitted himself very well against the limited Romanians, looking a good deal more comfortable at thirteen when moved there on the withdrawal of Payne on Sunday.

Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald was above-average when pressed into service at inside centre against Canada.

He is in the running for the left wing slot against Italy and, perhaps, for the one at thirteen, where he has dabbled in the past.

Thankfully, Simon Zebo was afforded a small window to be with his family at a time of sorrow on the passing of his grandfather John Geary.

He returned to the bosom of what must feel like a home away from home yesterday, numbered with a host of close friends at Camp Ireland.

It will be up to Schmidt to evaluate how the happy-go-lucky Cork man has been changed or strengthened by such unforecasted emotional turmoil.

The doubt over Kearney's participation is real and must be considered a risk. A minor gluteal strain takes 1-3 weeks to heal.

"If guys have had niggles they get through this afternoon, they will be assessed in the morning and then it's selection from there," said Feek.

"Rob ran around and a few guys looked pretty good, so fingers crossed for the rest of the week. He trained. Now, it's just a matter of how he goes from that.

"Normally you like to give them a run and then assess that, to see if they wake up with anything, if it's sore or whatever. From there, we'll be able to assess that."

It is not in Schmidt's nature to go against the odds when it comes to protecting one of his pillar players, especially with Zebo demonstrating his super-natural skills at full-back against the Romanians.

Feek was able to confirm Schmidt's approach from here on will be to play the best with his best.

"I think the best team to beat Italy has to take the field, yes," said Feek.

"Now, we've got to get that quarter-final and we've got to get out of the pool.

"We've got to move on now.

"That's not saying the team that plays this week will play next week.

"But, the team that plays this week will be the one we think that can best combat Italy."

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