Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has revealed that Ulster utility back Jared Payne will be a contender to replace Brian O'Driscoll.
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has revealed that Ulster utility back Jared Payne will be a contender to replace retired centre Brian O'Driscoll.
New Zealander Payne becomes eligible to play for Ireland through residency in November.
The 28-year-old is primarily a full-back but has played several games at outside centre for Ulster recently.
“Jared Payne would definitely be one of the guys in the frame – he is a class player,” Schmidt told the BBC.
He added that Payne would be in immediate international contention when he qualifies and would do battle with the likes of Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden, Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave for Ireland's number 13 jersey.
Payne joined Ulster from the Auckland-based Blues as a recognised full-back but also had experience as a centre and wing.
“Jared is an experienced player and has a natural intuition on the field,” said Schmidt.
“He is a good decision-maker, he tends to be able to avoid the first tackle or beat the first tackle.
“He is a little bit flexible in where he plays on the field, he's played on the edge or at full-back.”
Schmidt said finding a replacement for O'Driscoll is a project he has been working on since he started his coaching tenure last year.
“We have certainly been watching players, and I think both Robbie and Darren have profited from the time they spent working with Brian,” he explained..
“One of the real success stories as a group was how much those players brought.
“We would be delighted if Brian stayed reasonably close to the group, because of the character he is as well as the on-field intelligence he brings to the group.”
Schmidt, meanwhile, feels that Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton will see out his two-year Racing Metro contract despite speculation that the Irish Rugby Football Union could try to bring him back to Ireland after this season.
“If Johnny were to come back it would be great, but one of the problems with that is that Johnny is pretty much a man of his word,” said Schmidt.
“He's committed to Racing, and it would be pretty hard to see him coming out of there. I can't see it.”