Rugby Union

Joe Schmidt thrusts Jared Payne into midfield as Ireland go in search of victory

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Joe Schmidt has signalled Ireland's desperation for victory against Italy on Saturday by parachuting fit-again Jared Payne back into his midfield rather than shifting the Ulsterman to full-back.

Two-time RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland are still chasing their first win of this year's tournament at the fourth time of asking, leaving boss Schmidt refusing to take any chances against the Azzurri in Dublin.

Rob Kearney has failed to beat his hamstring strain, leading head coach Schmidt to slot Simon Zebo into the full-back berth.

Schmidt could have shifted 30-year-old Payne to the 15 shirt to allow Ulster battering ram Stuart McCloskey to continue at inside centre.

The Ireland boss has resisted the temptation to build for the future by handing emerging stars like McCloskey another opportunity however.

Ireland are intent on closing out the Six Nations with consecutive home victories over Italy and Scotland to avoid slipping from champions to also-rans.

McCloskey won his Test debut in Ireland's 21-10 third-round defeat to England at Twickenham, forming a bruising midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw.

Payne missed the Twickenham clash with hamstring trouble but has been brought straight back into the 13 shirt after finding full fitness at the start of the week.

Schmidt has long staked much of his Ireland tenure around New Zealand-born Payne's defensive stability in midfield, and has duly reverted to type at the first given opportunity.

The conservatism of Schmidt's selection only serves to indicate the lack of scope to experiment in the Test match arena.

Ireland have only lost once to Italy in Dublin, a 37-29 defeat in 1997. This clash ought to be the closest thing to a banker victory in Test action, but even under such auspices taskmaster boss Schmidt will not countenance a calculated gamble.

Leinster young gun Josh Van der Flier continues at openside flanker with Sean O'Brien ruled out for the tournament.

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