Joe Schmidt tips Irish to do themselves proud but Ulster's Payne loses battle for fitness
If Ireland are going to win a series on South African soil for the first time, they will have to do so without Ulster's Jared Payne after boss Joe Schmidt confirmed his fullback has failed to recover from injury.
The converted Kiwi has been ruled out of tomorrow's deciding Test in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium thanks to a troublesome calf knock picked up in last weekend's defeat.
In his place, Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran makes the first start of his Ireland career after a short cameo off the bench last time out. At yesterday's team announcement, Schmidt confirmed that Payne had been close to winning his fitness battle.
"It's probably just one day too soon," his coach and compatriot lamented. "Jared was looking to train today and wasn't able to.
"At the same time we're looking to give some opportunity to Tiernan and Matt Healy (the uncapped Connacht wing who is on the bench) so it was a decision that was made less difficult.
"It was a bit about Jared and a bit about those young lads."
In the absence of Robbie Henshaw, who flew home earlier this week with a knee injury, Luke Marshall returns to the side.
Having made his international comeback after two years out in the victorious series opener, he will wear 13 tomorrow after featuring at inside centre in Cape Town, with his Ulster team-mate Stuart Olding set to play alongside him in midfield.
Aside from the pair of injuries he has had to contend with, Schmidt has recalled a number of his first Test history-makers.
CJ Stander returns after his one-week ban, Mike Ross is back at tight-head and Keith Earls replaces Craig Gilroy, while the bench is bolstered by the return of Ultan Dillane and Sean Cronin.
Should Eoin Reddan replace starting scrum-half Conor Murray, who wins his 50th Irish cap, it will be the last appearance of a well-decorated career after the Leinster No.9 announced his impending retirement yesterday.
"Mike Ross is coming in fresh, Jordi Murphy and CJ Stander are coming fresh, and hopefully that energy will be a little bit contagious in the group," said Schmidt. "There are a lot of changes but it's trying to balance players who still have a bit of fuel in the tank as opposed to players who are either carrying knocks or are just starting to flag."
In this elongated World Cup season, Ireland's front-liners have been on the go for a full calendar year but Schmidt is sure his men are capable of one final push before a belated break.
"I'm utterly confident that they'll make me and themselves proud," he said. "They'll make sure that Ireland feel proud of them because that's the way they commit to going about their work and I've no doubt that they'll be no different than in the last two Tests.
"It's been a long season, people are tired and that's going to maybe detract from people being at the their optimum but, at the same time, I don't think too many will detect that because what they don't have in fresh reserves of energy, they'll make up for in full commitment."
South Africa, meanwhile, have also shuffled their deck.
Unsurprisingly, Ruan Combrinck and Warren Whiteley have both been promoted to the Springboks XV for the decider.
The Lions pair, who both scored tries in last weekend's comeback on their home turf, are the only two changes to Allister Coetzee's run-on side and they replace Lwazi Mvovo and Duane Vermuelen respectively.
The exciting but uncapped Jaco Kriel has been rewarded for an outstanding Super Rugby season with a place on the bench while Bordeaux's Steven Kitshoff and hooker Bongi Mbonambi are others who could make their Test bows as replacements.
"It will be another huge battle," said Coetzee. "Both sides have suffered injuries but it provides opportunities for others to come in and stake their claim.
"We know what is at stake. It is winner takes all. This group will continue to grow and have the opportunity to gain more experience by playing together."