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Rugby World Cup: Ireland coach Schmidt hopes to wing it with new pairing


Big miss: Jared Payne‘s foot injury has forced Joe Schmidt to use a different centre pairing for the seventh game in a row

Big miss: Jared Payne‘s foot injury has forced Joe Schmidt to use a different centre pairing for the seventh game in a row

?INPHO/Billy Stickland

Big miss: Jared Payne‘s foot injury has forced Joe Schmidt to use a different centre pairing for the seventh game in a row

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits he would have felt more comfortable going into tomorrow's clash with Italy had Jared Payne managed to shake off injury and take his usual place in midfield.

With the Ulster number 13 nursing a bruised foot the returning Robbie Henshaw will be partnered by Keith Earls, a seventh centre pairing in as many games for Ireland.

"To be honest, it's probably not ideal," the head coach said yesterday before leaving the team's Guildford base for east London and its close proximity to the Olympic Stadium.

"It would be nice to have the security of Jared who had played the last two weeks at 13, especially because Robbie slotted between those two, but Keith adds a little bit of a different dimension and it'd be great if we can create a little bit of space for him because he's been very good on his feet and he's actually been a real threat every time he's had the ball.

"Jared's really disappointed not to be playing this weekend because he offers an opportunity to somebody who is in good form.

"I'm hoping that they can continue to challenge our opponents and, at the same time, deprive our opponents of opportunity through the middle of the field.

"It's great having Robbie back, for him, he's going to take a little while to find his feet.

"At the same time, with Keith, he's going to re-adjust from having been on the wing for the last couple of weeks."

Given how Earls performed in the number 11 jersey against Romania Schmidt was tempted to keep Darren Cave in the starting line-up, moving him to outside centre from the second five-eighths position where he featured at Wembley, but in the end opted for a lineup that made room for the Munsterman, Tommy Bowe and Dave Kearney.

"Darren Cave was in form, that was certainly part of the discussion, but we just felt that Keith in the pre-season match (against Wales in Millennium Stadium) had shown a real sharpness and it was a way to have Tommy and Dave Kearney on the pitch at the same time."

Looking ahead to France, Schmidt said he was "quietly confident" Payne will be ready to resume his partnership with Henshaw for the first time at this tournament.

"He's progressing really well. There was a scan as a precaution to make sure there was nothing structurally awry.

"He's got bruising and that's it, it's just inflammation and discomfort that is getting better by the day.

"We'd be expecting that he'd be able to train, at least individually, on Tuesday and he'd be able to train with the team on Wednesday."

And if not, would Schmidt disregard his usual policy of selecting only players who have trained in the early stages of the week?

"We haven't given it a lot of thought," he replied.

"We're just trying to get him right as soon as we possibly can.

"Without sounding too hackneyed we're very much focused on the next 48 hours."

With France having already won their first three pool games, victory tomorrow is imperative if Ireland are to avoid going into the colossal showdown with Philippe Saint-Andre's men next weekend at a considerable disadvantage.

To date in this World Cup the manner of victory had been hugely important - Canada and Romania are sides who always should have been beaten in a convincing manner - but as the tournament approaches the knock-out stage, racking up another win is the only concern for Schmidt.

"I'd be delighted to get the result (regardless of performance)," admitted the former Leinster coach.

"It's probably not often I say that.

"If I'm talking to you guys on Sunday evening post-game and we've had a two-point win I'd be delighted to have qualified.

"In a tournament like this performance is obviously pivotal but I don't think anyone's going to complain as long as you get through to the next round and you remain alive in the tournament.

"We're virtually now at the beginning of the knockout stages because, while it might not be fatal, it would be a very serious blow if we didn't win on Sunday.

And for us that would make the following week a massive pressure cooker that we massively could do without.

"So for us, any result I'd be delighted with, but we'll always look back and try and improve on what we're doing."

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