Rugby World Cup: Jared Payne expected to regain his place for France v Ireland showdown
Jared Payne looks set to return to the Ireland starting XV for the biggest game of the World Cup campaign to date.
If the Ulsterman comes through this morning’s training session unscathed he is likely to get the nod from Joe Schmidt for the Pool D decider against France at the Millennium Stadium.
Rob Kearney will also be put through his paces to prove his fitness for Sunday’s clash.
It means a reshuffle for Schmidt behind the scrum, with one of Simon Zebo, Dave Kearney and Keith Earls likely to miss out altogether.
With Payne returning at outside-centre after suffering from a bruised foot, in-form Earls may shift to the left wing with Tommy Bowe on the right after his strong showing against Italy.
Rob Kearney’s return from a glute injury could see Zebo drop to the bench.
The big call for Schmidt could be the inclusion of Devin Toner.
The towering second-row drew high praise from the head coach after his contribution off the bench in Sunday’s narrow win over Italy and his big-game experience looks set to be rewarded with a surprise start.
With Iain Henderson likely to make way despite his standout showing against the Azzurri, Schmidt may look to include Cian Healy from the start to compensate for the loss of ball-carrying ballast.
Henderson would be tasked with countering the impact of the France bench, while the coach could be playing the long game by rotating his forwards in the knowledge there could a quarter-final battle to come just six days after the Sunday’s clash.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre will name his team first, with Bernard Le Roux expected to start at openside. Saint-Andre is set to sacrifice the attacking prowess of Noa Nakaitaci for a back three of Scott Spedding, Remy Grosso and Brice Dulin to deal with Ireland’s kicking game.
The French are upbeat, with Le Roux saying: “We are well prepared, had a brilliant pre-season, we are where we want to be after winning the first three games. We have made a few errors but we are very confident.”