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Rugby World Cup: Jared Payne set to discover if he's won fight to face France

Ulster's Jared Payne will find out today if he will feature in Ireland's crunch World Cup showdown with France in the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.

The outside centre missed last weekend's 16-9 win over Italy with a bruised foot and was seen pitchside in a protective boot.

He has been in a race against time to be back in the No.13 jersey when Joe Schmidt's men take on Les Bleus to decide who tops Pool D and avoids New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

"The next 24 hours will give us a clearer picture of Jared Payne's situation," said Ireland team manager Mick Kearney yesterday shortly before the squad departed for their new Celtic Manor base.

"He's in and out of the moon boot all day and he's been jogging in training. We would be very hopeful he will be okay later in the week."

Payne appears to be the only injury doubt with Rob Kearney recovered from a strained glute.

"Aside from the usual bumps and bruises, we're hopeful of having all 31 players available," Mick Kearney added.

In Payne's absence last weekend, Keith Earls partnered Robbie Henshaw in midfield, the seventh different centre duo for Schmidt's side in as many games.

Ulster's naturalised Kiwi was the target of a harsh critique by some television pundits after his performance against Romania two weeks ago but remains wholly trusted by Schmidt and the camp were angered by what was seen as baseless criticism.

If he was to return, he would be relied upon to provide stout defence in a backline that needs to hold firm in the face of a French attack led by Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana.

Should the 29-year-old not be passed fit, however, the back-to-back Six Nations winners would be left mulling over a number of available options.

Earls, a try-scorer against Italy, could continue in the position with two of Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Dave Kearney on the wings.

Alternatively, Earls could return to the No.11 jersey and Schmidt would be left to choose between Luke Fitzgerald and Ulster's Darren Cave for the outside centre berth.

Belfast Telegraph

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