Jared Payne and Rob Kearney set to return for Ireland

Kicking coach Richie Murphy confirms both players are fit and ready to face France

Jared Payne and Rob Kearney will almost certainly start for Ireland in their World Cup pool decider against France in Cardiff on Sunday.

The squad are again based away from the madding crowds in the Celtic Manor – it’s certainly been a good World Cup for the keen golfers in the squad – and each player was expected to take part in a light run-out at Newport High School yesterday.

Joe Schmidt likes his teams to train all week together in advance of a match, but even if Payne’s involvement was curtailed it’s likely the coach would make allowances for such an influential cog in the machine.

The centre is no longer wearing a moon boot on his badly bruised foot, and the squad's kicking coach Richie Murphy said yesterday: "Everyone's fit and healthy from the weekend and Rob and Jared look to be fine and ready for selection for this week."


The management and fellow players have bridled and bristled at criticism of Payne, and Murphy echoed Johnny Sexton’s comments that Payne makes all those around him play better.

“Jared’s an incredible player. His communication in the middle of the midfield is second to none; he’s a second pair of eyes for the No10. He’s obviously physical, carries the ball well, runs good lines and he’s a distributor who creates space for others around him. He’s a top-class player and I know all of our guys really appreciate playing with him.”

Tidy up

Not that the return of Payne and Kearney can rectify all the wrongs of last Sunday’s laboured win over Italy.

“We definitely have a lot of things to tidy up this week,” he admitted, and specifically “in and around the breakdown, we weren’t as accurate as we’d like to be. Our set-piece held up, but we probably didn’t get the quality ball and didn’t use that possession as we’d have liked to.”

Murphy is moving on from Leinster, over five years on from taking up a full-time role as skills and kicking coach with the province, for a newly devised role with the IRFU which will see him working with the kickers in all four provinces as well as the international squad.

Thus, he will continue to work with Sexton, of whom he said: “I don’t think he’ll be overly happy with his performance (against Italy). I thought against Canada, in the first game, he was excellent. After the weekend, I think, with another game under his belt, he’ll be in a lot better position this week.”

Entering the quasi knock-out phase of the tournament this weekend, and thereafter the knock-out stages themselves, goal-kicking is liable to become more significant, with Murphy also noting that drop goals (there have only been three to date) are a massive part of World Cup history as well.

Pressure exerted

Bearing in mind how Bernard Laporte felt compelled to remove

Freddy Michalak

after 46 minutes of Toulon’s

Champions Cup

semi-final win over Leinster, there’ll be a view that the mercurial 32-year-old could again be targeted. Murphy agreed: “All outhalves can be pressurised.”

Although this depends on the pressure exerted on the French set-pieces and at the breakdown, and Michalak, now France’s most prolific points scorer in World Cup history after 33 in two matches here has taken him to 136 in total, can also be a match-winner, witness the try assists in both his games as well.

“He is a major threat when he is playing at the top of his game,” said Murphy. “His goal-kicking in the last couple of games has been very good as well. He is definitely a guy we will be keeping a close eye on at the weekend, trying to put some pressure on.”

Murphy also noted the improvement in France’s defence. “Their line-speed seems to be a bit more together. They look like they’re fitter, they’re obviously very big and strong. So, I think it’ll be a massive test for us at the weekend, but one that we’re really looking forward to and we feel like we’re in a good enough position, we’re building nicely.”

Tough game

“Obviously, our performance last week wasn’t at the level we’d like it to be at, but we got through a really tough game against Italy who are a good side. They’re a Tier One team, in the past couple of years they’ve beaten us, they’ve beaten France, you know? It can be hard to get away from them.

“We stuck to our guns and we got through that game, so we’re looking forward to France now everyone will be in a better place after that Italy game.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times