Jared Payne warns Ulster to focus on Cardiff
Jared Payne has warned that Ulster must avoid any signs of a Heineken Cup hangover if they are to maintain their winning run when they return to RaboDirect PRO12 action against Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Mark Anscombe's men notched a highly impressive 25-8 victory away to Montpellier in their Pool 5 tussle on Saturday but, even with praise from the Northern Hemisphere's rugby fraternity still ringing in the their ears, Ulster's classy Kiwi has warned his team-mates that there is no opportunity to dwell on the success at the weekend.
"There's a lot of hype around the Heineken for a few weeks and then, no matter how hard you try, there's always a bit of a downer when you come back into the Rabo but we need to get straight back focusing if we're going to get what we want out of the next league game coming up at Ravenhill.
"Once you get on the field it doesn't matter about the build up to any game as long as you're driven by what your goals are as a team and you stay focused on what makes individuals tick as rugby players. That's what we'll be looking to do and a good result will hopefully come from that," stated the former Auckland Blues player.
Ulster's win – the first by a visiting team at the Stade-Yves-du-Manoir in Montpellier's three seasons of Heineken Cup action – earned the province the 'EuroRugby Club of the Week' award but it was an accolade that could have easily went to Friday's Welsh visitors instead following their toppling of reigning champions Toulon at The Arms Park on the same day.
The unlikely victory over Mourad Boudjellal's expensively assembled side of superstars was all the more surprising after Cardiff's disjointed and dispiriting showing against Exeter in the competition a week prior, Phil Davies side only rescuing a four-try bonus after the Premiership side had long since secured a maximum five-point haul.
Inconsistent they may be, but Payne is wary of the threat posed by a side that contains the talent of well-known players such as Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins and Alex Cuthbert.
"They tipped up the big dogs in their last game so they'll be buoyed by that and they will no doubt take a lot of confidence and positives from doing so.
"We're going to have to be really on top of our game to get a win but the boys here realise that you're only as good as what you put out in the paddock each week so we'll definitely be focused on what we need to do to get a result."
Despite having firmly switched his attention to Ulster's upcoming domestic action, Payne did offer himself one opportunity to look back on the weekend's heroics in France as he reflected: "We knew we were up against it going in so to front up the way we did and get a result obviously had us all really stoked.
"We didn't listen to all the talk that was going on before the game and were going over there to win so obviously we can be pretty happy to come back with the four points that we wanted from the outset."
Meanwhile, Ulster's medical staff will check out Iain Henderson's fitness today in the hope that he is able to face Cardiff come Friday night.
The 21-year-old, 6ft 6ins Irish international lock/flanker suffered a toe injury – which is believed to be a dislocation – during Saturday's Heineken Cup victory over Montpellier in France.