I have to give up the dream but I'll repay Ulster faith as a coach, says Payne
Ulster's Jared Payne says he has been forced to give up the dream after calling time on his rugby career yesterday.
The Kiwi, who arrived in Belfast in 2011 before going on to represent both Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, will become the province's new defence coach ahead of next season.
It was on Lions duty last year where Payne ultimately played his last game of competitive rugby, leaving that tour of his homeland early after pulling on the famous red jersey three times, the last of them against the Chiefs a little over 11 months ago.
It was after that game that he started experiencing headaches, and he said in February that he "hadn't been quite right since".
While he appeared close to making his comeback on several occasions, more than once being described as only a few weeks away, in the end the recurring symptoms would not subside for long enough.
Now 32-years-old, it is a disappointingly premature end to a career in Ireland that, for all Payne's talents, was notable for the resilience shown throughout.
Having ruptured his Achilles in just his third game for the province, the former Auckland Blues man would miss virtually his entire first season in the northern hemisphere, including the run to the Heineken Cup final of 2012. Upon his return, he quickly set about establishing himself as a highly intelligent footballer, one whose lines from full-back were key to unlocking opposition defences.
By the time he qualified for Ireland in 2014, making his debut against the Springboks, Joe Schmidt had earmarked him for a midfield berth, the successor to Brian O'Driscoll in the 13 jersey.
He quickly became his fellow Kiwi's defensive lynchpin, appearing at the World Cup in 2015 and playing a key role in beating the All Blacks one year later.
As well as his organisational skills, Payne's toughness was always seen as somewhat remarkable, trying to play through injuries such as a hamstring tear, a broken foot and a kidney issue over the course of his Test career.
His latest issue, however, is one injury too far and he walks away with 20 Ireland caps and 78 Ulster outings to his name.
While his retirement comes as no shock, he is another key component who will not be part of the playing squad next year.
Ulster were already to be without Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Paul Marshall, Robbie Diack, Callum Black and Charles Piutau next year. Add in Payne, and it's a group that represented the province on more than 1,000 occasions.
"It's been a good ride but unfortunately every good thing has to come to an end," he said. "Playing rugby has taken me to places I never thought I'd see and allowed me to meet people I never thought I'd meet.
"Firstly, I'd like to thank my parents for all their help in my younger years and my brother Josh for being a live tackle bag. Thanks also to the coaches and team-mates throughout the years that have made living this dream possible, and to the staff, volunteers and fans that make game days so special.
"The support that I've received from my partner Chrissie and sons Jake and Tyler, particularly over the past 12 months, has been incredible.
"I would like to thank all of the medical professionals who have supported me since my injury occurred in June last year. I'm extremely grateful for your considerable care and attention.
"While I will miss the buzz of running out with mates every weekend, I have to listen to the medical advice and unfortunately give up the dream. However, I've surprised myself how much I have enjoyed coaching and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this role on a permanent basis.
"Finally, I'd like to thank the management here at Ulster for giving me the opportunity to contribute in this way and I look forward to trying to repay the faith shown in me."
Since Director of Rugby Les Kiss departed in January, Payne became an impromptu member of the coaching staff, with players and fellow coaches hailing his role in a defensive set-up that markedly improved over the latter half of the campaign.
Looking towards what will be a bright future in the coaching box, Ulster's Operations Director Bryn Cunningham hailed his fellow former full-back's astute rugby brain.
"It is with sadness that we have to accept that Jared's days of playing professional rugby are behind him," he said.
"He was a fantastic player who was exceptionally gifted, having had a huge influence in the game in both attack and defence.
"While we will lose Jared's ability on the pitch, we now gain another astute rugby brain on the sidelines."