Ireland call upon Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne

Schmidt: 'I do think that centres are interchangeable. With Robbie and Jared you may see a bit of that'

The dawn of a new era then for Irish centre play. Joe Schmidt has acted accordingly.

The line of questioning, obviously, revolved around the Ireland coach's decision to run Jared Payne at 13 with Robbie Henshaw at 12 in a new and wholly inexperienced midfield partnership to face the Springboks on Saturday (5.30pm).

There is no doubting Schmidt knows best and regularly makes unpredictable selection calls that pay off.

But this looks like the biggest yet.

Jean de Villiers, the South Africa captain, wins his 103rd cap. His 21-year-old partner Jan Serfontein has 16 caps in the continued absence of long term injury victim Jacque Fourie.

Payne, who played outside centre at Super Rugby level in 2011 for the Auckland Blues, switched from fullback again this season and makes his international bow following three years residing in Belfast.

Henshaw will win his fourth cap.

Schmidt essentially put the selection down to Gordon D’Arcy being unable to train last week due to a groin strain sustained against Castres in round two of the Champions Cup. Still, it’s the third time in as many seasons that D’Arcy has been dropped from the matchday squad. Felix Jones provides the cover for the outside backs.

“D’Arcy was injured last week,” said Schmidt. “He is back to full fitness now but we weren’t sure of that at the beginning of the week. We have small windows of preparation. We come together for a very brief period of time.

“The two lads have got in there together and done a good job (in training).”

There has been five pitch sessions.

“We decided to go with the paring we had the most time with.”

Schmidt also lauded D’Arcy’s mentoring abilities this week.

The main focus is Henshaw at 12, a position Connacht slipped him into for the 40 minutes he played against Exeter in the 33-13 Challenge Cup on October 23rd. Exeter ran in three tries, including one from outside centre Henry Slade, but there is no footage to judge how the 21-year-old performed.

Schmidt, seemingly, didn’t see it either.

“I know he started the game at 13, if he ran at 12 it is no difference to Jean De Villiers; he defends at 13 and runs with 12 on his back. That’s what I said about centres. Gordon D’Arcy has played a lot of 13 this year

“I do think that centres are interchangeable. With Robbie and Jared you may see a bit of that anyway.”

Payne, a fullback by trade besides two seasons (2011 and 2014/15), has never run at inside centre while Henshaw, it’s accepted, is a rugby player of limitless potential.

Mike Ross is not fully fit but, needs must, so he starts at tighthead with Rodney Ah You primed to win his second cap off the bench around the hour mark or sooner.

“Rodney has scrummaged really well. The other thing is he is fully fit. He has more minutes than Stephen Archer who is coming back from a long term injury.

“We got to go with what we think is the fittest team available for an environment that is going to be incredibly hostile.”

Elsewhere, Mike McCarthy keeps Munster lock Dave Foley off the bench, while Ian Madigan’s versatility and form gets him selected ahead of Ian Keatley.

The rest is familiar enough to the Six Nations winning side, except for Cian Healy's absence, while Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe replace the injured Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble on the wings. No worries there.

Ireland XV (V South Africa): R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, P O'Connell (captain), P O'Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip.

Replacements: R Strauss, D Kilcoyne, R Ah You, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, E Reddan, I Madigan, F Jones.