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Six Nations Ireland v Italy: Ulster's Payne and McCloskey offer a welcome dilemma - Andrew Trimble

By Nick Purewal

Published 08/03/2016

Impressive: Stuart McCloskey stood out against England
Impressive: Stuart McCloskey stood out against England

Jared Payne's return to full fitness after hamstring trouble will hand Ireland boss Joe Schmidt a selection conundrum for Saturday's RBS Six Nations clash with Italy.

Reigning champions Ireland are winless after three matches and chasing two closing victories to avoid slipping from title-holders to also-rans.

Ulster ace Payne missed Ireland's 21-10 England defeat but could return for Saturday's Dublin clash with the Azzurri if head coach Schmidt fields the 30-year-old alongside regular centre partner Robbie Henshaw.

Ulster battering ram centre Stuart McCloskey impressed alongside Henshaw in a new-look midfield at Twickenham however, leaving Schmidt weighing the balance between victory at all costs and broadening his options.

Assessing the merits of both fit-again Payne and McCloskey, Ireland wing and fellow Ulsterman Andrew Trimble said: "We'll see what happens, obviously Jared gives us another option in the midfield and he's a quality player.

"I have played with Jared for a few years now at Ulster.

"Obviously you have got two contrasting styles between Jared and Stu, so it's just what sort of rugby Joe wants to play.

"But there are plenty of options there anyway."

Flanker Tommy O'Donnell suffered a stinger injury to his shoulder in Munster's 26-5 Guinness PRO12 win over Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday.

Ireland were hopeful the 28-year-old would be back in full training today, but added the uncapped Munster back-rower Jack O'Donoghue to the training squad as cover.

Test rookie McCloskey held his own on the unforgiving Twickenham stage despite Ireland's second loss of the tournament, to add to their 16-16 draw with Wales.

And Ulster wing Trimble has backed 23-year-old provincial team-mate McCloskey to continue acclimatising to Test match level if handed another opportunity this weekend.

"In typical Stuart style, in a big step up like that at Twickenham against England, he stepped up very well, and took it in his stride," said Trimble.

"He is very confident and knows what he's capable of producing on the pitch.

"I think there's more to come from him as well."

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