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Coach should stick with Ringrose despite the return of Payne

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt will be sorely tempted to return Jared Payne to the Ireland midfield against Wales on Friday night.

The experienced centre marked his first start since damaging his kidney in November against Treviso on Friday, before linking up with the Ireland squad.

His was a tidy performance in filthy conditions, marked by a score that summed up the problem with gauging match-sharpness and form against the hapless Italians.

Payne has never let Ireland down. He has come in for some unfair criticism, but he is commonly thought to be the best defensive back in the squad.

For all that, Schmidt should resist the temptation and stick with Garry Ringrose.

Payne is the safe call, maybe the sensible call, but if the coach really wants to progress towards the 2019 World Cup then Ringrose should retain his place.

Perhaps Payne can be accommodated elsewhere. He's an excellent full back and his return must be unnerving Rob Kearney, while his adaptability means he's a bench option.

However, 17 of Payne's 19 caps have been starts at centre and, while Schmidt insists he doesn't have a role in selection at provincial level, it was telling that he wore No 13 on Friday.

Why pick Ringrose over the more experienced option who offers more in defence?

Well, sometimes a coach must be bold; sometimes a coach must keep the faith.

The 22-year-old had a difficult opening half against Scotland, but he has demonstrated since then that he is the real deal.

His performance against France was further proof that he is increasingly at home at this level. He is creating more space for himself, becoming better at balancing risk and reward and in a first half when Ireland struggled for go-forward ball he offered himself frequently and effectively against bigger men.

As usual, the Welsh will field a sizeable backline. They will carry the ball hard and directly at their opposite numbers. It will be a test for Ringrose, but he is getting better with each game and a full campaign will stand to him.

While Henshaw-Payne was the partnership designed for 2015, Henshaw-Ringrose is the duo that can be cultivated for Japan.

Payne will turn 34 during that tournament and while there is a title to be won and pool seeding to be secured, there is no reason that both cannot be achieved with Ringrose in the team.

Don't agree? Perhaps Brian O'Driscoll will convince you.

"I think Garry is Ireland's No 13 now," he said last week. "He still looks wiry and his frame needs size, but he packs a punch still and he's aggressive in his carry. He is growing with confidence in being willing to take the defensive system into his own hands."

O'Driscoll is a fan of Payne's abilities, but believes his Ireland future lies at full back.

Schmidt's decision will tell us a lot about Ireland's ambition for the coming cycle.

Time to be bold, time to stick with Ringrose.

Belfast Telegraph

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