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Ireland v Italy Six Nations: Jared Payne set for centre stage role

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt looks set to ignore calls to play Jared Payne at full-back and reunite Ulster's New Zealander with Robbie Henshaw in the centre against Italy in Dublin on Saturday.

With Rob Kearney highly unlikely to prove his fitness in time for this afternoon's team announcement, the Ireland coach is set to pick Simon Zebo in the No.15 shirt and leave Ulster's Stuart McCloskey out of his starting XV.

There has been a clamour to pick Payne at full-back and retain the McCloskey-Henshaw partnership that started against England, but the Ulsterman Payne's defensive nous is set to see him restored to the midfield.

Schmidt appears unlikely to make further changes to his team as they go in search of a first win in 2016.

That means he will resist the urge to promote Ultan Dillane ahead of Donnacha Ryan or Devin Toner in the second-row, with Mike Ross likely to continue ahead of Nathan White. In the back-row, Josh van der Flier is expected to win his second cap alongside CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip.

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton will continue at half-back, but there could be changes on the bench with Kieran Marmion likely to replace the injured Eoin Reddan as cover for scrum-half, while Ulster's Paddy Jackson might finally get an opportunity ahead of Ian Madigan.

It remains to be seen who will take the No.23 shirt, with Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls likely to be retained on the wings. Schmidt is due to name his team at 1.45pm, with Italy's Jacques Brunel to follow suit shortly afterwards.

Possible Ireland team: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, J vd Flier, J Heaslip.

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