Ulster Rugby: Jared Payne out to make amends
Ulster full-back Jared Payne is poised for his first match since being red-carded by French referee Jerome Garces in the opening minutes of the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Saracens four weeks ago.
The New Zealander, who was banned for two matches — the minimum suspension — after an independent disciplinary hearing into his collision with the Aviva Premiership leaders' full-back Alex Goode, admitted that he now feels he owes his Ulster team-mates a big performance against Leinster on Friday night at Ravenhill.
Expressing his admiration for how they coped in his absence for 75 minutes against opponents who have since gone on to book their place in the Heineken Cup final, Payne said: “The guys I thought were awesome.
“The way they played and got themselves up against 15 people for a whole game was unreal. I'm just gutted they couldn't get the result.”
And he revealed that Goode, who was stretchered off after the pair collided, afterwards told him he though the red card against Payne had been harsh.
“He was pretty good about it,” the Ulster player said. “He asked if I was injured and he didn't think I should have been red-carded. That made me feel a little bit better, I guess.”
Asked if the experience is likely to affect his approach to challenging for a high ball in future, he replied: “If it plays on your mind you probably shouldn't be running out at the weekend.
“If I see a kick go up I'm still going to keep my eyes on the ball and go for it. That's what you get trained to do from you're five-years-old so I'm still going to do the same thing probably.”
As for what is at stake on Friday night when he makes his comeback, the Kiwi who becomes Irish-qualified next season said: “It's an important game against an awesome team.
“They're top of the table at the moment and it's the opening of Ravenhill so those three things combined makes for a big week.
“This time of year is exciting to play these big games and hopefully put yourself in a position to play semi-finals and finals.
“The boys had a good few days down in Dublin (Carton House) and there's a good buzz about the team. They're excited and keen so that's always good. I'm looking forward to this week.”
Coach Mark Anscombe, meanwhile, insisted that Ulster will strongly resist any attempts to lure Payne away from Ravenhill.
There have been indications that the IRFU would be willing to allow Leinster to recruit the Kiwi-born player south of the border as they begin to plan for Brian O'Driscoll's retirement.
“I don't know where that's come from," said Anscombe. "He has re-signed and he has another two years with us. He won't be going anywhere."
The IRFU, however, said earlier this season that "all provincial player contracts are central IRFU contracts and every contracted player is an employee of, and paid directly by, the IRFU."
In addition to Payne's availability, Ulster expect to have loose-head pair Tom Court and Callum Black back against Leinster.
And they could have scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and hooker Rory Best back in their ranks for the following weekend's date with Munster at Thomond Park.
Anscombe is hoping for a long-overdue rub of the green ahead of that Saturday, May 10 head-to-head in Limerick, the last of the 22 matches in the PRO12 league series-proper.
Given that it had been feared Best and Pienaar were out for the season as a result of injuries sustained in that ill-fated Heineken Cup quarter-final clash, a return at this stage would be a very welcome boost.
“Pienaar could be ready for the Munster game, or the following week if we're in the play-offs. Best is the same,” Anscombe revealed.
“I'm not saying that they will be ready, but they may be — and you know how big an influence those two guys have on our team.”
A decision on whether or not to include either or both of those key players in the Thomond Park meeting with Munster may well hinge on the outcome of Friday night's showdown with Leinster.
Meanwhile, Ireland's Fergus McFadden (knee injury) has been ruled out of the Leinster side for Friday night's PRO12 clash with Ulster.