DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has backed Jared Payne to perform at fullback after naming him as one of three changes to his side for the visit of Six Nations champions England to Dublin on Saturday.
New Zealand-born Payne has started 17 of his 19 tests for Ireland at centre but has been selected in the number 15 jersey in place of Rob Kearney, who is ruled out with a knee injury sustained in the 22-9 defeat to Wales last weekend.
Payne played at fullback in two tests in South Africa last year, and Schmidt says his experience and match awareness will be a benefit.
“Jared’s experience will be important for us. He played a little bit at fullback for us in South Africa and is a solid player who very seldom makes an error,” Schmidt told reporters when announcing his team on Thursday.
“He has the ability to read play and see space, and to look after the ball and anyone who gets through the defence. We have confidence in that.”
Other changes include Kieran Marmion replacing Conor Murray at scrumhalf for a first Six Nations start and lock Iain Henderson coming in for Devin Toner.
“We made the change at nine because Conor trained OK this week without contact, but when we did a fitness test he was not 100 percent,” Schmidt said.
“Henderson came off the bench last week and did really well. It was a tight call as to how we jumbled (the lock positions) around.”
Uncapped Munster wing Andrew Conway has been named among the substitutes.
Victory for Ireland would cement second place in the Six Nations, despite having lost to Scotland and Wales, and also secure a position as one of the top four seeds in the draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which will take place in Kyoto, Japan on May 10.
A top-four seeding would see Ireland avoid heavyweights New Zealand, Australia and England in the group stage.
“To finish second in the championship is a massive thing for us,” Schmidt said. “It was a target for us (before the Six Nations) and we can still attain it despite the disappointment of round one and last week.”
15-Jared Payne, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Simon Zebo, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Kieran Marmion; 8-Jamie Heaslip, 7-Sean O‘Brien, 6-CJ Stander, 5-Iain Henderson, 4-Donnacha Ryan, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16-Niall Scannell, 17-Cian Healy, 18-John Ryan, 19-Devin Toner, 20-Peter O‘Mahony, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Paddy Jackson, 23-Andrew Conway.
Reporting By Nick Said,; Editing by Neville Dalton