Joe Schmidt will name his side for this Saturday’s first test against South Africa in Cape Town at 1pm today and the New Zealander looks set to opt for Ulster’s Jared Payne in the fullback slot left vacant by injuries to Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo.
It appears to be a straight choice between Payne and Robbie Henshaw, Ireland’s regular centre partnership, for the number 15 shirt, with Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran deemed too inexperienced to make his bow in what will surely be an extremely physical contest.
Payne, who has won each of his 14 Ireland caps at outside centre, occupies the fullback slot for Ulster and was one of the form players in their run to the Pro12 playoffs this season. Payne’s absence at second centre will likely be filled by Henshaw, while one of Luke Marshall or Stuart Olding will slot in at 12.
Keith Earls and Andrew Trimble will be Schmidt's first choice wingers.
Paddy Jackson will fill the cavernous hole left by Johnny Sexton’s injured shoulder with Conor Murray, as always, feeding him from scrumhalf.
As for the big men, the front three will be the tried and tested formula of McGrath, Best and Ross while Connacht’s beastly Ultan Dillane and Ulster’s equally physical Iain Henderson will duel to partner Devin Toner in the second row.
CJ Stander, who will no doubt be targeted by the Springboks, will be Ireland’s primary ball carrier with either Rhys Ruddock or Jordi Murphy selected alongside him at flanker with the ultra-dependable Jamie Heaslip continuing at number 8.
South Africa will name their team at 2.45pm Irish time and is expected to include the likes of JP Pietersen, Willie la Roux, Adrian Strauss and arguably the world’s best number 8, Duane Vermeulen.
Predicted Ireland Team for First Test Against South Africa in Cape Town, Saturday 11th June - 4pm (Irish Time)
- Jack McGrath
- Rory Best (c)
- Mike Ross
- Iain Henderson
- Devin Toner
- CJ Stander
- Jordi Murphy
- Jamie Heaslip
- Conor Murray
- Paddy Jackson
- Keith Earls
- Luke Marshall
- Robbie Henshaw
- Andrew Trimble
- Jared Payne