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Payne's fighting spirit has helped end nightmare


By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Half-time at the Aviva Stadium and Joe Schmidt and his coaches have delivered their messages to a team leading Australia 17-7; things are looking good.

As Rory Best calls the team to their feet and into a huddle, Jared Payne excuses himself. Nature calls. Little does he know his game is over and he's facing five nights in a Dublin hospital.

What follows is a little graphic and if you're squeamish, you might want to look away for a couple of paragraphs.

It came about as a result of a collision with Wallaby centre Reece Hodge and resulted in Payne missing three months of rugby with a fractured kidney.

It serves as a reminder of just how physical and dangerous the Test match arena can be.

"I just passed the ball and their No 12 half-checked me and play carried on," the Ulster star recalls. "After I'd cooled down a bit, I was thinking 'Jeez, he's a solid fellah, he got me half-decent there'.

"I carried on until half-time and the coaches finished speaking, Besty was about to get us in and I just said 'sorry, I've got to take a pee here'. I was beside (coach) Andy Farrell in the toilets and realised I was p**sing blood basically, a big sort of clot came out.

"He laughed at me and said: 'you better get that checked out'.

"The doc had a look at it, he found a clot in the toilet... I tried to say it was beetroot juice, you p*** a bit red after that, but they wouldn't let me back on.

"Then I was told I was going to be in hospital, to just go and get a scan and be back by the end of the game; five days later I got out ."

When the IRFU announced that he had suffered a kidney injury the rugby rumour mill went into overdrive.

"I heard all sorts of things," Payne recalls.

"I read in one newspaper that I had to get it removed or something which was a bit of a laugh. It was never that serious, I was in hospital for five days.

"They were just monitoring me. I had a few really good people looking after me. They'd come in each day to do a few scans and eventually reached the conclusion it was a fractured kidney.

"There was talk that they'd have to do an operation to seal off the blood vessels if it didn't stop bleeding, but it did by itself so it was good. Since then I haven't looked back, luckily enough.

"You're in such good hands, we get looked after so well. You've just got to trust other people that know what they're talking about.

"I'd a few mates text me saying 'you've always got a spare one if that doesn't work', there's always a bright side I guess.

"It was more frustrating for my partner Chrissy and Jake (their nine-month old son) - they were down and had to stay down and muck around a bit. That was pretty hard on them, but Ireland were good and looked after them.

"The most serious thing was when I left hospital I got the Norovirus (winter vomiting) bug, I got home and I was spewing up and that's apparently a sign that your kidney is a bit screwed so I was panicking about that.

"It's one of the symptoms that your kidney has shut down, so it was worrying."

"I spent the first 24 hours back home spewing up which wasn't very nice. That's when I was the most scared, because you've got no one around to look after you and you're just thinking, 's***, am I going to need to call an ambulance here or what?' Thankfully it was all good."

Payne delivers that tale with a matter-of-factness that belies the seriousness of the incident; as if he took it all in his stride.

The remarkable thing is that he got back to the Test arena before the conclusion of the Six Nations; returning to Lansdowne Road to face England despite having a limited amount of training and two games against the Italian regions under his belt.

Somehow, he got through 80 minutes of a furiously paced game at full-back. There were, he admits, times when he didn't think he'd make it through.

"I came back earlier than I thought with that kidney," he says.

"I'd only had a couple of weeks of training.

"It was good to get back playing and get a few games for Ulster and that awesome day down in Dublin was nice.

"After one stage of play that was a fair bit of running, if you'd asked me if it was awesome I don't even know if I could have answered because I was so wrecked.

"It was tiring, I knew it was going to be. I'd only been training once a week for a few weeks. I'd been playing each weekend, the calves were flaring up as they do and it was just a matter of managing that and fronting up.

"I got through it slowly! It's just go until you can't go any more. You just put your mind to it, get over it and get on with it. If the body fails you come off.

"Luckily enough it didn't quite fail me. There were a few other boys who were touch and go as well so I knew I had to tough it out a bit. It wasn't ideal, but being part of a team that played so well it was easy to get a bit of a piggy-back ride and be involved in a team that beat England.

"I wasn't as sharp as I could or should have been, but that's life.

"Just being able to get back out with the boys is pretty good, you love playing rugby and to have an injury like that was frustrating and you question if you'll be able to get back to doing what you love. I was happy enough to do that."

The long absence robbed him of much of the season, but it did afford him an opportunity to bring Jake to New Zealand for the first time. It was Payne's first trip home for three years and having been part of the team that ended the All Blacks' world record winning run in November, he was a recognisable figure.

"I got a few beers out of that result which was good," he says with a smile.

"If there is one team that New Zealanders don't mind losing to potentially it is Ireland, it was the first time and they were saying fair play. They enjoy the Irish, so it was good to get a few free beers across the bar, it was definitely brought up a few times.

"It was cool to beat them, it was a pretty wicked week all round in Chicago.

"There was a lot of travelling Kiwis so I saw another few mates and then I'd to play against some friends I hadn't seen in years.

"That was good as well and to beat them was even better.

"All round, it was a pretty awesome week and I don't think I could've written it that way."

The ankle injury he suffered last weekend has denied him a trip to face Munster at Thomond Park today, but it won't keep him out of Ulster's remaining games.

"We always seem to make it difficult on ourselves," he says of the province who sit fifth in the Guinness PRO12 table with three games remaining. "They're all must-wins."

Les Kiss's Ulster know how good they can be on the good days, but that is of little help to them.

"It's reassuring, but it's a bit of a cop-out or a safety blanket," Payne says.

"You could say that, be lazy during the week and say 'look, potentially we can do this if it clicks' or we can say 'b***** it, we might not actually be that good and we have to work harder to get to where we need to be'.

"That's the attitude that most people are taking which is pleasing, you take that attitude in, week in, week out, and work hard on the training field and hope it translates into the weekend.

"Things have definitely improved a bit, there's been aspects of our game we're getting a lot more comfortable in but unfortunately there's still a few moments where we let ourselves down which is frustrating."

After all his body has been through, you could forgive Payne if he'd written off this season but he's doing no such thing.

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