Jared Payne: My eight months of torment with mystery headaches
Jared Payne has opened up for the first time about the head injury nightmare which has kept the Ulster and Ireland player sidelined since last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.
The 32-year-old has been unable to play a competitive match since suffering a bang to the head in last June’s Lions game against the Chiefs and recurring headaches have persistently stalled his hopes of making a comeback.
“Ever since then (the Chiefs game) I haven’t been quite right,” Payne revealed. “It’s been a bit stop-start, there have been times when it hasn’t been too bad and other times when it’s been pretty bad.
“We’ve had a few cracks at different things to get it right and trying to get back (playing) but unfortunately nothing has cleared everything up just yet.”
After eight months out, and with still no obvious sign of a return to playing, speculation will now only increase that the Irish-qualified Kiwi, who is out of contract at the end of the season, will be forced to retire.
He is currently helping out with defensive coaching at Ulster in the aftermath of Les Kiss’ sudden departure at the end of last month. However, the talented playmaker, who can operate at centre or full-back, seems to have not entirely dismissed his hopes of being seen on the pitch again.
“We’ll see how we go with a bit of rest over the next month and see where we go from there,” he said.
Payne played, and scored a try, when the Lions defeated the Chiefs back in June in their last game before the Test series kicked off, but was then stood down for their final non-Test clash against the Hurricanes due to persistent headaches.
"I was playing in that Chiefs game and took a bit of a whack towards the end," Payne said on Ulster Rugby TV. "I had to come off but didn't think anything of it. (I was) a bit 'headachey' and sore that week, but nothing too bad. Come the captain's run day for the next game, I think it was the following Tuesday, I got back on the bus and felt travel sick."
Despite being reportedly close to playing again at various times this season, Payne has failed to entirely shake off the effects of what happened.
In the meantime, it has emerged that Payne is now assisting head coach Jono Gibbes in the tweaked coaching structure since Kiss left.
Payne explained: "I've been helping out with the coaches. I'm happy to help. I'm doing a bit of work on the defence side."
He was last seen in an Ulster shirt in April 2017 in the home draw with Cardiff Blues and missed the last three games ahead of the Lions tour. He last togged out for Ireland nearly a year ago when he won his 20th cap in their final-day Six Nations win over England in Dublin.
Payne has played 78 games for Ulster after signing in 2011.
After qualifying for Ireland through residency, he made his international debut in autumn 2014 and was part of the Ireland side which dramatically snatched the Six Nations title the following year to claim back-to-back successes under Joe Schmidt.