Ireland door opens for Ulster's Payne

Keith Earls has become a doubt for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations clash with England in Dublin on Saturday due to a groin injury.

Tuesday, 14th March 2017, 10:42 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:09 am
Ireland's Keith Earls with Alun Wyn Jones of Wales

Earls sat out training yesterday, leaving Ulster’s Jared Payne ready to step into Ireland’s backline if the Munster flyer cannot recover.

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek backed Earls to return to training on Thursday, but boss Joe Schmidt usually wants his starting squad to complete the Tuesday session before a Saturday match.

Feek insisted Ireland’s galling 22-9 loss in Wales will not derail head coach Schmidt’s approach, with England hunting a second-successive grand slam and world-record 19th consecutive win at the Aviva Stadium.

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Head Coach Joe Schmidt with Jared Payne

“Keith Earls has slight groin tightness,” said Feek.

“He’ll be training on Thursday, we’re just giving him an extra bit of time.

“Johnny (Sexton) and Conor (Murray) trained today. They were pretty good, they got through it.

“With Jared, you’ve got to look at the weekend, where he would slot in, how he’s tracking physically and where he is with everything else.

Head Coach Joe Schmidt with Jared Payne

“He’s a great guy to have even just in camp, let alone out on the field.

“We’ll just wait and see. There’s a few guys there with a few bumps.

“He’s always an option, and if he’s fully fit and things like that, then that would be even more of a headache.”

Earls has proved one of Schmidt’s most trusted backline operators, becoming a regular feature on Ireland’s wing.

The 29-year-old’s possible absence could open the door for a return for Payne, who has only just recovered from kidney damage suffered in November.

Ireland will fight to avoid defeat to all three home nations rivals in one championship for the first time since 1998, following their comprehensive loss in Wales.

The Welsh refused to panic after consecutive losses to England and Scotland to pull off their gritty win over Ireland, and Feek hinted Schmidt’s men will seek out something similar this Saturday.

Feek insisted Ireland do not need a drastic revamp of either personnel or approach to push England to the limit in Dublin.

“We were disappointed in Cardiff, and I think there’s an emotional effect afterwards, a mental and physical fatigue,” said Feek.

“But I think the players certainly emptied the tank massively.

“There were errors and some of those errors maybe compounded by some good Welsh defence.

“But also maybe from ourselves as well, just maybe choosing the wrong option, passing when we weren’t supposed to, or not quite getting round the corner on defence, or maybe not winning the position when we needed to.

“We’re all aware of that and we’re trying hard not to do that.

“Sometimes with players and selections if that’s what you’re alluding to, they can learn from that and we’ve got to back them.

“So it’s not something that we’re going to suddenly change our philosophy in terms of how we play or who’s in there, massively.”