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Ireland sweats over Payne as Gilroy is drafted in

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is sweating over the fitness of Ulster centre Jared Payne ahead of Saturday's clash with England while injuries elsewhere have led to the call-up of his in-form provincial team-mate Craig Gilroy.

Without a win in the opening two rounds of their Six Nations title defence, Ireland need a victory to maintain even the slightest hopes of retaining their crown and Schmidt would dearly love to have his first choice No.13 available for the trip to a Twickenham ground where they have not tasted victory since 2010.

A hamstring complaint, however, once again kept the naturalised Kiwi out of training yesterday. Having been hampered since sustaining the injury in the loss to France 10 days ago, Ireland management hope to see the 30-year-old back on the paddock at Carton House today but his absence could mean a big week lies ahead for Ulstermen Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall.

Either could fill the potential void left in the Ireland midfield, while a fit again Keith Earls provides Schmidt with a more tried and tested option, and a selection for McCloskey would represent the Bangor man's first cap at this level.

Team manager Mick Kearney said yesterday afternoon: "Jared is continuing his rehab and the hope is that he will train fully tomorrow.

"He did some running in Mullingar last week and will continue with that rehab today. The hope is that he will train fully tomorrow."

The broken foot sustained by Payne at the World Cup proved a major blow in Ireland's ultimately fruitless efforts to make a first ever semi-final and, after becoming an important figure over the course of 12 caps, his absence would again be keenly felt.

Schmidt has so far seemed reluctant to reward the stellar Ulster form of McCloskey and Marshall during the championship but it seems his hand may be forced after Kearney said the approach to Payne's injury would be "a bit of wait and see".

"I'd say the expectation is that he will train fully tomorrow," he continued.

"We'll know a little bit more by this time tomorrow."

Another hoping to see their PRO12 form rewarded this weekend will be Gilroy after the 24-year-old was called into the squad yesterday as a replacement for the injured Leinster winger Dave Kearney.

The Ulsterman has put in some sparkling displays during this campaign - his solo effort against Scarlets last Sunday was his seventh try of the season - but, after bursting onto the international scene in the autumn of 2012, has featured for Ireland only once in Schmidt's tenure, that cap coming against Georgia in November of 2014.

Gilroy is just one of the additions to the squad with Munster lock Dave Foley replacing Mike McCarthy (concussion) and Jordi Murphy coming in for Sean O'Brien (hamstring).

As expected after featuring for Leinster in recent weeks, props Cian Healy and Mike Ross are also back to boost a scrum that struggled against both Wales and France, while Kearney also moved to allay any fears regarding the well-being of key out-half Jonathan Sexton.

"Jonathan Sexton rolled his ankle last Friday and sat out the remainder of the session as a precaution," added Kearney.

"He's very good. He was taken out of the session on Friday purely as a precaution.

"He's in and will train fully this afternoon.

"Cian (Healy) and Mike (Ross) both joined the squad today.

"I think they're pretty well there. They both participated in Leinster's last two games and both got a significant amount of game-time at the weekend against Cardiff.

"So they're in, fully fit and available for selection.

"Tadhg Furlong has got that thigh injury and James Cronin has been allowed back to his province."

Meanwhile, Conor Murray has admitted Ireland harbour a "fear factor" about facing England at Twickenham.

"England away especially is a huge task; there is a fear factor among players about going there," said Murray.

"I have never won there and there are a lot of players in the squad who have never won there but we have come close.

"We performed well against them last year in the Six Nations, so there is a mix of fear but also quite a bit of excitement."

Of Schmidt's current squad only international and Ulster captain Rory Best, prop Healy, Leinster hooker Sean Cronin and No.8 Jamie Heaslip featured among the forwards when Ireland last won at Twickenham, a 20-16 victory in 2010.

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