IRELAND COACH JOE Schmidt is confident that Robbie Henshaw will fit comfortably into the 12 shirt against South Africa, as Jared Payne makes his international debut at outside centre.
Schmidt believes that the experience surrounding the midfield duo will be an important factor as they look to combine as successfully as Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll have done for Ireland in recent years.
D’Arcy misses out on selection this weekend, with Schmidt explaining that the veteran centre’s struggles with a calf injury since Leinster’s win away to Castres in the Heineken Cup two weekends ago meant he was unable to train fully.
That in turn allowed Henshaw and Payne to build up an exciting understanding at the Carton House sessions.
“Gordon was injured last week, and he’s probably back to full fitness now, but we weren’t absolutely sure of that at the start of the week. We get small windows of preparation, we come together for very brief windows of time. We just felt we were part way along a pathway that was looking reasonably positive.
“The two lads have gone in there together and done a good job. To be fair to Gordon D’Arcy, he’s helped immeasurably. He’s been a mentor for Robbie and Jared this week.
Henshaw shifts inside to wear the 12 shirt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“It was going to be a new pairing no matter what happened and we decided to go with the pairing that we had the most time to work with.”
At just 21, Henshaw will win his fourth cap this weekend. The Connacht man looks physically ready for the task, although the fact that he is in an unfamiliar midfield pairing adds to the test of his abilities against the Boks.
Schmidt says the only way to find out is to put Henshaw to the test. Payne makes his international bow against the second best team in world rugby, but again the Ireland coach is comfortable.