RUGBY WORLD CUP: Ireland without injured Jared Payne and Rob Kearney for key Italy match

Ireland's Jared Payne
Ireland's Jared Payne

Rob Kearney and Jared Payne have both lost their fitness battles for Ireland’s crucial World Cup clash with Italy on Sunday.

Head coach Joe Schmidt has slotted Simon Zebo in at full-back and Keith Earls into the outside centre berth for the Pool D clash at London’s Olympic Stadium.

Rob Kearney suffered a mild gluteal strain on scoring Ireland’s fifth try in the 44-10 victory over Romania at Wembley last weekend, and simply ran out of time to prove his fitness to face the Azzurri.

Payne bruised his foot against the Romanians, and did not train on Wednesday - the pivotal day’s work in regard to selection to face Italy.

Connacht centre Robbie Henshaw will make his World Cup debut after missing the first two matches of the tournament with hamstring trouble.

Win and Ireland will secure their quarter-final place, with France still to play in the group stages, so boss Schmidt has rolled out his full-court press starting XV.

Jack McGrath retains his place at loosehead prop, even though scrum coach Greg Feek admitted fit-again Cian Healy is “breathing down his neck”.

Healy only just won fitness after neck surgery in time for the World Cup, so is still perhaps a little shy of full match-sharpness.

Ulster powerhouse Iain Henderson partners captain Paul O’Connell at lock, with the tournament’s tallest player, the 6ft 11in Devin Toner, offering cover from the bench.

Tommy Bowe has forced his way back into the line-up after returning to form against Romania. The Ulster wing was quickly jettisoned after slipping off Jonny May to allow his England counterpart to score at Twickenham in Ireland’s 21-13 warm-up defeat.

Now the 31-year-old is right back in the mix. Bowe would be unlikely to start were Rob Kearney and Payne both fit, but Schmidt’s decision to elevate him past replacement Luke Fitzgerald certainly indicates restored faith.

IRELAND: S Zebo (Munster), T Bowe (Ulster), K Earls (Munster), R Henshaw (Connacht), D Kearney, J Sexton (both Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), P O’Connell (capt, Toulon), P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien, J Heaslip (both Leinster).

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy (both Leinster), N White (Connacht), D Toner (Leinster), C Henry (Ulster), E Reddan, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald (all Leinster).