Injuries forced Schmidt to gamble

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt selected Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in midfield because of a dearth of available alternatives, reports JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.

The selection of Henshaw and Payne has come as a shock, not only because the pair boasts three Test caps between them, but because the 80-Test veteran Gordon D’Arcy is fit and available.

Following the Six Nations, Ireland lost the vastly experienced No 13 Brian O’Driscoll to retirement. Initially, it was thought that Henshaw would fill the void at outside centre, and play alongside D’Arcy.

On Thursday, however, Schmidt confirmed that Henshaw would start at No 12, and the uncapped Payne at 13.

‘We had to look at what was available to us,’ said Schmidt, who spoke at length about the Ireland injury situation and how it has placed the side in a difficult position. He gave the impression that he had not much choice but to gamble with the two rookies.

‘Robbie and Jared have been training together this past week, so we just felt that we would stick with some continuity. Gordon is back to full fitness now, but we weren’t sure of him at the beginning of the week. We haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, and we’ve had to make do.’

Henshaw and Payne will line up against the Springbok midfield of Jan Serfontein and captain Jean de Villiers. Serfontein is only 21, but has been with the Boks since the start of 2013, while De Villiers is an accomplished veteran with 102 caps. On paper, the Bok centres are big favourites to dominate this battle.

‘There’s never a perfect time [to blood these rookies],’ said Schmidt. ‘We’ve looked at what’s available to us, and gone with Robbie and Jared. I believe they will give a good account of themselves. I have no doubt that they will be tested by the Boks.’

Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli