Six Nations 2017: Schmidt says fit-again Payne in frame for Ireland's Wales game
Joe Schmidt says Jared Payne could be in contention to return to Ireland duty in the Six Nations game against Wales on 10 March.
Payne, 31, made his return after three months out because of a kidney injury in Ulster's Pro12 win over Zebre in Parma on Sunday.
Schmidt said Payne is among a number of players who could be considered for inclusion in the Cardiff game squad.
"Jared is probably one of them," added the Ireland coach.
"There are a few other guys in contention as well, the likes of Dave Kilcoyne, who is working away pretty hard, and Denis Buckley is working hard."
Full-back Rob Kearney underwent a scan on Monday after being forced off in Saturday's win over France because of a groin injury.
While there was no detail on the scan results on Monday, the Ireland management appear reasonably confident that the Leinster man will be available for the Wales game.
"We'll see how the scan goes but it's not too bad," said Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek.
If Kearney was ruled out, Payne would be a full-back option although a switch for Simon Zebo from wing to the number 15 jersey might be a more likely scenario.
Payne came off the bench in the second half of Ulster's game in Italy to make his first appearance since sustaining a fractured kidney on Ireland's game against Australia in November.
The New Zealand, who has been a regular at centre alongside Robbie Henshaw since Brian O'Driscoll's retirement, is expected to get further game time with Ulster against Treviso on Friday.