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Jared Payne: We need full return against Zebre

Jared stresses need for bonus point wins in hunt for success

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Jared Payne says nothing less than a full return against Zebre on Saturday will suffice if the province are to maintain their Pro12 play-off hopes.

Les Kiss' men enter the weekend in fifth place with only three rounds of action remaining but, with the other six teams in the top seven playing each other, the trip to Parma represents a chance to make up ground on their rivals.

While discussing the chase for bonus point wins with players and coaches can often be a fruitless exercise - usually met with answers about respecting the opposition and sticking to processes - Payne is unequivocal when asked if Ulster need to bank four tries against the lowly Italians.

"Every game is a must win," said the Kiwi.

"We're under no illusions we have put ourselves in that position and we need to go there and chase the bonus point win."

Having not played since beating Connacht a fortnight ago, another down week to accommodate European knock-out stages follows the Zebre contest before Ulster host Leinster and visit Ospreys to conclude the season.

With a testing finish ahead, Payne is looking no further than this weekend.

"We used the break well, got a good bit of work done last week, and that gave a few boys time to get over some knocks and other boys time off," said Payne.

"It was really good for us. We're treating it week by week.

"We know what we are up against this week and if we can get the job done we'll have a week off to recover and then look forward to the next week.

"It's purely a week to week basis at the moment (because) there is a lot we can't control.

"We just have to get our week right, get our prep right and respect Zebre, they are a fairly decent team.

"They have struggled at times this year but when you break their team down they have a lot of Italian internationals and traditionally we haven't travelled too well over there.

"We have to respect them, put in a good week's work, and then when it comes to the game respect them.

"They are very dangerous and play heads up rugby very well and they have some dangerous runners on the edge.

"They have a pretty decent defender in the middle with (Gonzalo) Garcia and, if Kelly Haimona starts, he can direct the ship.

"Then they have Mils (Muliaina) at the back. When you list the names off they have some pretty impressive players so we are going to have to be on our toes."

Payne's defensive abilities were again hailed throughout the Six Nations, and he was front and indeed centre when Ireland defeated Italy at the Aviva last month.

Back in the colours of his province, Payne won't be taking much from how he handled many of the same players on international duty.

"It's a completely different beast this week. If there are a few things I've learned from that I'll pass it onto the boys," he added.

"Unfortunately it was that long ago you can't draw too much from it."

For Payne, a strong finish to the season with Ulster would make up for a campaign he describes in no uncertain terms.

A man-of-the-match display against Connacht last time out was his first Pro12 game of the year, while injuries have ensured his Ireland appearances have been more than double his Ulster outings since the World Cup warm-ups began.

"For me personally, from an injury point of view, I don't hide behind that (it's been frustrating)," he said.

"Now the body is at the best stage it's been.

"I was carrying a bit of a dead leg from Scotland and I didn't get any bangs on that which was nice so it's been the best I've been since the World Cup.

"Hopefully I'll get a few more weeks on the trot under my belt and perform well."

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