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Ireland v New Zealand: Jared Payne reaching for new heights in All Blacks rematch

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 16/11/2016

Prepared: Ulster’s Jared Payne at Ireland training at Carton House
Prepared: Ulster’s Jared Payne at Ireland training at Carton House

When the All Blacks were last in Dublin some three years ago, Jared Payne was watching on in the Aviva Stadium, presumably something of a spectator with a foot in each camp.

While the green jersey was certainly on his radar by then, he was still a year away from qualifying on residency having spent the first 25 years of his life in his native New Zealand.

Something of a nomadic early career - Payne represented three different Super Rugby sides before Ulster's then Director of Rugby David Humphreys brought him north - has settled since then and the 31-year-old is now a fixture for both province and adopted nation.

His unbridled joy at beating the country of his birth in Chicago two weeks ago was etched across his face as centre partner Robbie Henshaw crossed for the game-sealing score and it was a feeling felt throughout his entire clan.

While fiancée Christina is from Northern Ireland, there could be some divided loyalties expected among the wider family but Payne revealed there was nothing but goodwill for the Irish side.

"They're Irish supporters," he said. "They've supported me in whatever I've done, my mum and dad.

"There's been slagging from a few uncles but that's about it. Mum and dad and my brother are over the moon for Ireland and what we've done.

"They've been good about it. If there's one team the Kiwis would like to lose to it's probably us in Ireland."

With Payne having progressed as far as the under-21s in the All Blacks set-up, he is as well-placed as any to speak of the mindset of the three-time World champions when coming off the back of a defeat.

A so-called 'Blacklash' has been spoken of throughout this week and Payne expects that Steve Hansen's men will not take the events of Solider Field lying down.

"Knowing how competitive they are, I don't think they'll need the coach to bark," he said.

"They'll be driven. They'll leave no stone unturned in their preparation and be looking to put us to the sword.

"The All Blacks, every game there's pressure. They're expected by the New Zealand public to win every game.

"Chicago was no different and it'll be no different this weekend.

"They'll be a lot better. I think there's a lot of areas they'll clean up and that they'll improve on.

"I think it's easy enough to see the challenge when you're one in 111 years. It's pretty big.

"It's good that we're realistic as a squad. It'd be silly if we stood up on a pedestal and said we're the best now.

"Look, it's great to have the first one off our back but it's a fresh week and a better All Black team. The challenge will be a lot bigger."

With Rob Kearney's restorative performance at 15 in Chicago, and Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran impressing in the same jersey against Canada a week later, calls for Payne to revert to the full-back role where he has excelled for Ulster have certainly lessened this autumn series.

Joe Schmidt has always hailed Payne's ability to marshal his channel when playing in midfield and, for his part, the player is enjoying the new defensive system put in place by coach Andy Farrell. Discarded by England after their World Cup flop, Farrell has proven an able replacement for Les Kiss in the role of defence coach with Payne impressed by the former league star's passion.

"He's a great coach. He knows what he wants, he knows the system well," he said.

"He delivers the message clearly and he's pretty passionate about it.

"He's pretty easy to play under to tell you the truth," he added.

"He's had some different ideas to what I grew up with personally but it's a great system. He really backs it and backs the players to make quick decisions.

"If a coach is passionate about what he's delivering, it's pretty hard not to buy into that as a player.

"When you've him charging around in training, you feed off that.

"You realise you do what he says and hopefully it'll work.

"The All Blacks are one of, if not the, best attacking teams in the world.

"They still scored a fair few points against us unfortunately.

"Defence is a massive part. You've got to shut them down and hopefully we can implement the plan we've been given."

Expected to be wearing 13 once again on Saturday and to continue his midfield partnership with Henshaw, Payne has been impressed by the man many expect to be a future mainstay in the jersey.

Leinster's Garry Ringrose made his international debut against Canada at the age of just 21 and looked right at home.

"It was great to see how all the young guys went and the result they got was awesome," he added.

"It keeps us on our toes and we know we have to put our best foot forward today and tomorrow and hopefully get picked. It's great for the team.

"The internal competition drives us to get better. It's brilliant for Irish rugby."

If Ringrose remains one for the future, Henshaw is very much of the present with Payne believing he is ready to be a superstar.

"The way he conducts himself off the pitch now, he's becoming more of a leader. He backs himself a lot more," Payne said.

"He has the physical attributes to become a superstar. The more confidence he gets and the more he leads people, it'll come out in his game and you're starting to see that.

"Hopefully it continues because when you've someone playing as well as that inside you, it can be pretty easy."

As Payne himself notes though, that won't be the case come Saturday.

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