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Don't rule Jared Payne out of more Ireland appearances, warns Schmidt

By Gareth Hanna

Jared Payne's international rugby career is not necessarily over yet, according to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

The 32-year-old has not played since withdrawing from last summer's British and Irish Lions tour with concussion.

News of his progress since he was substituted against the Chiefs, after scoring a try, has been scant, although Ulster's Operations Manager Bryn Cunningham confirmed earlier this week that Payne had been aiding the province's backroom team in an unofficial capacity.

When asked about the New Zealand born centre's move from playing to coaching, Schmidt revealed his hopes to add to Payne's 20 Ireland caps before his boots are cleaned for the final time.

"Jared might not be finish playing the game yet," said the coach. "I've had discussions with Jared, they're ongoing. We'll continue to have those disucssions. He's in great shape. I wouldn't rule him out but he's got a real understanding of the game.

"To have him involved in the coaching and have that experience he brought to our team - you only have to ask the other players how comfortable he made them feel because he understood the game."

Schmidt was asked about Payne at the very end of his press conference to announce his Ireland team to face Italy in the second game of the 2018 Natwest Six Nations.

Ulster players Jacob Stockdale, Rory Best and Iain Henderson all held their positions in the side while Leinster's up-and-coming star Jordan Larmour was named on the bench.

"I expect Jordon to provide what he's been providing in provincial matches," said Schmidt. "That electric acceleration, change of direction but also that surety under the high ball, that skill. There are a couple of really nice passes that he has linked in with to set players away. We'd love to see all that. Away from the ball, he has a super work-rate so we know if we are coming under pressure, he'll be working incredibly hard to relieve that.

"If he replaces Keith (Earls) or Jacob (Stockdale) on the edges, having Rob (Henshaw) at the back will be an asset. If he replaces Rob, having Keith particularly on the edges will be an asset too.

"But you don't place a player and except him to be looked after. Jordan will have an expectation that he will look after what he needs to do."

Four changes were made to Ireland's pack as Leinster players Jack Conan, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy and Jack McGrath all come in.

"It's rewarding some performance by Jack Conan in recent times and trying to keep a freshness," explained Schmidt. "These Six Nations become, if nothing else, mentally attritional.

"We felt that we stayed in control of that match for a long time. To let Teddy Thomas, despite knowing how dangerous he can be, slip up the touchline and away from us, was incredibly frustrating. In a test match of that magnitude, it only take one lapse to let a team back into the game.

"There are things we need to be better at but to force them on their home turf to make 245 tackles is not a bad effort when you want to stay in control of a game."

Ireland's Paris hero Johnny Sexton holds his place in an unchanged back line.

Schmidt said: "One of the great things about the Six Nations is that it's played over seven weeks. If Jonny (Sexton) didn't play, he'd have two weekends when he hadn't played. Is that the best preparation for our next game? Joey (Carbery) will come off the bench this week and will play for Leinster next week. He will still get that exposure."

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