Ulster’s new signing Jared Payne was due to catch up with some well-earned rest today after touching down in Belfast last night following his long haul trip from New Zealand.
The former Auckland Blues full back will hook up with his new team-mates this week though it is believed that he will not be available for Ulster’s next RaboDirect PRO12 League game against Italian side Aironi on Saturday afternoon.
Instead, the 25-year-old, who has represented the All Blacks at U21 level and is a versatile player who can also perform in the centre and on the wing, seems more likely to make his debut in an Ulster shirt next week when Brian McLaughlin will probably include him in the squad for the Friday night Ravenhill clash with Cardiff Blues in what will be Ulster’s third League outing of the current campaign.
Payne’s arrival, on a three-year deal, is a considerable boost for Ulster — currently having to deal with the absence of eight current squad members at the World Cup — and further sharpens their attacking options should he, as expected, play his way into the coveted number 15 jersey.
Payne certainly arrives with plenty of rugby behind him as he started the southern hemisphere season playing for the Blues, in the Super 15 campaign, and then transferred over to club side Northland, for their domestic ITM Cup Championship, which saw him tog out for his last game on August 27 in a heavy defeat to Counties Manukau.
The fact that Payne, who skippered Northland, picked up a hip injury during the ITM Championship but came back to finish the season may have caused some concern for his new employers but it is believed that he should be in good condition to start his time in Ulster.
Though he leaves behind a home country gearing up for Friday’s World Cup kick-off, Payne is excited about his new challenge, even if there are concerns at the approach of a northern hemisphere winter.
“I’m really looking forward to it (coming to Ulster),” he said before departing.
“It’s something new and hopefully it will be a good experience. I am a bit nervous about the cold though.”
Of course, Payne is not the only Kiwi making the trip to Belfast as All Black prop John Afoa will join him after the World Cup when Ulster will be hoping that all their international players are able to return to Ravenhill with clean bills of health.
As for Saturday’s game at Aironi, Ulster are believed to be in good shape to pick from the same squad that saw off Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill in last Friday’s opening PRO12 League clash.
Prop Declan Fitzpatrick may well be in the mix as he returned to some light training this week after sustaining a bang on the head in a pre-season friendly but new signing, and fellow prop, Callum Black will be out of action for some time with a neck problem.