Belfast Telegraph

Jared Payne is relishing clash with new Ireland pal Robbie Henshaw

By Michael Sadlier

Ah yes, here comes the first encounter with Jared Payne since he got his hands on some silverware in his first season of international rugby. We approach warily as this is uncharted territory.

While the collective memory is still fresh of an incredible ending to 'Super Saturday' when the deliriously relieved Ireland squad spilled out at a raucous Murrayfield to lift the trophy and celebrate their back-to-back success with countless selfies, it doesn't mean that Payne is going to come over all misty-eyed about the experience. Far from it.

Indeed, as things turn out, it's now just about being back with Ulster while readying himself to face his Ireland team-mate Robbie Henshaw tomorrow in Galway. And that's it, just being in the here and now is all that counts.

You see, apart from the Henshaw issue, the Six Nations is history now and Payne isn't one to be found loitering around with the memory even though it has ended up being a hugely satisfying debut international season since the Kiwi qualified to play for Ireland last September.

He has six caps now and what looks like a bolted-on midfield partnership for this autumn's World Cup with the hugely talented Henshaw.

And despite trying to evade the issue - the likelihood is that Payne will play at 13 tomorrow with Henshaw either directly opposite or maybe at inside centre - facing his Ireland colleague eventually tracks him down.

"I spent a bit of time with him obviously," Payne says with a half smile.

"We've actually been texting this week and we certainly know each other's games so it will be interesting to see how it goes playing against each other," he adds with familiar understatement. "Hopefully we'll have a few laughs out there as well and I hope he doesn't beat me up too much."

They have, of course, played on opposing sides before but, should it come to it, have never come face-to-face in midfield.

And Payne grudgingly accepts that most of the hype will be about him and the Connacht native now trying to unpick each other's games after spending so much time trying to dovetail together under Joe Schmidt's gaze.

Eager to shake Henshaw off, he returns, albeit briefly, to the Six Nations and how he ended up bolstering his reputation in Ireland's all-out attacking game in Scotland after some pretty damning criticism from certain quarters.

And he also even managed to come away from Edinburgh with his first international try as well as a winning medal.

"It was a pretty strange day," he says of that incredible 'Super Saturday'.

"The emotions were all over the place and I was pretty shot by the end but it was good to get over the line," is offered as a means of putting the Murrayfield experience, and then watching the incredible clash between England and France, firmly to bed.

And his medal? It's in a drawer at home, he reckons.

That Payne would rather move on to matters Ulster is quite understandable. Now, it's about blending back into the side and trying to secure a home PRO12 semi-final followed by a final appearance, also at the Kingspan.

There is a problem though, brought on by his absence from provincial duties.

"I'm slowly learning the calls again," he says with that half-smile again. "You can forget them being down with Ireland but learning them again and just being back in the system again is good."

Indeed, his last game for Ulster was back at the end of January when Payne was part of the side which signed off their European season with a 26-7 demolition of Leicester Tigers in Belfast when he played full-back.

"That was a very long time ago," says the 29-year-old.

"Paddy Jackson got injured (in Toulon) just before my last game for Ulster and I thought his injury would mean he would be out for a long time.

"Now he's back playing and when you think about it, it actually is a long time since it (the injury) happened," states Payne, almost becoming wistful about his previous game for the province.

Well, now he is back for the trip to Connacht, which will be the first of three straight inter-provincials from the last four games. It leads Payne to stress how important it is for him and the other returning frontline internationals, Rory Best and Tommy Bowe, to quickly contribute to what are all now must-win outings.

"It's a big challenge and a tough run-in," says Payne.

"The boys have put the team in a great position so we've got to try and kick on.

"We've got to win four cup finals and then we'll have a fifth and hopefully a sixth (a final proper) will then see us make it the whole way.

"This will make for interesting times," he adds of playing Leinster and Munster at home after the western province this weekend, "but it's always good fun to play against your mates."

Fine, but how about another blast at summing up that amazing Six Nations finish?

"You can't look back on it too much. Yes, enjoy the fact it happened, but now there are important things to do here," he concluded.

No grandstanding then, just another neat touch from Jared.

tight-head prop Bronson Ross has agreed a one-year contract extension with Ulster.

The 29-year-old, who came to Belfast from Coventry in 2013 but missed virtually all of his first season due to a neck injury, has played 15 times for Ulster in this campaign and has established himself as back-up to Wiehahn Herbst.

Irish-qualified Kiwi, Ross said: "I am delighted to be extending my stay at Ulster and I will be looking to play my part in helping secure a top four spot in the PRO12."

Belfast Telegraph

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