Jared Payne pushing claims to replace legend Brian O'Driscoll
Published 10/12/2013 | 10:30
Set to become Irish-qualified in less than a year's time, the international prospects of Jared Payne have been the subject of much conjecture over recent months and the talented Kiwi has now stated that "it would be a huge honour" to pull on a green jersey.
After arriving from Auckland in 2011, Payne will become available to Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt under residency laws in time for next year's autumn internationals, just 11 months before the 2015 World Cup campaign begins against Canada in the Millennium Stadium.
And when asked about his impending eligibility, Payne stated: "It's something that is definitely a goal and it would be a huge honour.
"It's something that's pretty far down the line though and for now I'll be worrying about my performances for Ulster."
Having spent the first seasons of his Ulster career as a full-back, the former New Zealand under-21 international has been selected at centre by Mark Anscombe with increasing frequency this season, and the 28-year-old feels it may be a position he plays more in the coming years.
"When I get a bit older, and maybe a bit slower, I'd probably like to play 13 more, but right now I'm happy to play anywhere that I can get into this Ulster side, be that 13 or 15," he said.
The positional switch has prompted many observers to speculate that Payne could be Ireland's natural successor to Brian O'Driscoll when the legendary Leinster player retires at the end of this season.
Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw and Brendan Macken have all been mooted as potential inheritors of the green number 13 jersey, while Payne's Ulster team-mate Darren Cave spoke out about his own lack of international recognition last week, but the Tauranga native seems more capable than most of curing Ireland's own unique case of tridecaphobia.
On potentially replacing arguably Ireland's greatest ever international, Payne stated: "It's a bit scary thinking about it like that. O'Driscoll is maybe the best 13 ever, he's certainly up there anyway, but it's something that would be a massive honour and something I would love."
For now, however, Payne's focus remains on matters in south-Belfast, not Dublin 4, which at present means the trip to face Benneton Treviso on Saturday afternoon in the Heineken Cup.
Ulster negotiated the first half of their double-header with relative ease, running in seven tries during a 48-0 romp at Ravenhill last weekend, but it is almost unfathomable that the Italians will perform as poorly again and Payne holds Franco Smith's side in considerable regard.
"They're a good side and they will tip over someone in this pool. They've given us problems over the last two years and you can't take anyone lightly," he said.
While such an attitude is no doubt a necessity when facing underdogs in european competition, Toulouse's home defeat to Connacht on Sunday providing a timely reminder, Anscombe will still be expecting a victory to ensure Ulster stay in command of Pool 5 and aid their quest to secure a home quarter-final come April.
"I want to be involved in a side that wins the Heineken Cup," said Payne.