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Jared Payne: Why defence coach has opted to leave Ulster Rugby while leaving a gap that will be tough to fill

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Moving on: Jared Payne is quitting Ulster at the end of the season. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Moving on: Jared Payne is quitting Ulster at the end of the season. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Moving on: Jared Payne is quitting Ulster at the end of the season. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Where in some off-seasons the biggest holes a team needs to fill are on the pitch, Ulster now face up to trying to replace an integral part of their coaching staff.

Jared Payne’s departure from the backroom team at Kingspan Stadium leaves a void that they will have to take considerable care to replace, the New Zealander having turned the province into a stingy defensive outfit during his three-and-a-half years in the role.

It says much about Payne’s defensive acumen that he was able to make the transition into coaching seamlessly after his retirement, following seven years at Kingspan Stadium as a player, his reputation as a defensive expert at outside centre preceding a similarly successful career behind in the coaches’ box.

It is understood that Payne began looking for a move elsewhere during the off-season when he was not given the role of attack coach vacated by Dwayne Peel, with skills coach Dan Soper instead promoted to that position, and he is now set to “pursue overseas opportunities”.

While it has not been revealed yet where Payne will be taking his talents, his CV will attract significant interest both with European and southern hemisphere sides, and it would not be surprising to potentially attract some offers as a head coach.

“A big thank you to the Ulster community, the fans, players and staff that have made my time here special,” Payne said in his exit statement.

“I will forever be grateful for the opportunities and experiences that we have shared, and I look forward to hopefully adding to those over these final few months.”

There will be no shortage of applicants for a role at a team considered to be on the rise, although finding someone who can slot seamlessly into the gap created by Payne may prove more difficult.

Skills coach Craig Newby, a no-nonsense flanker during his playing days, is out of contract at the end of the season and may fancy taking a step up in responsibility, however whether McFarland will want to go into the market for a second skills coach in as many years is questionable.

“We all know how much Jared has given to Ulster, as a player and as an important part of our coaching set-up since 2018,” said McFarland.

“Jared has helped to shape who we are as a club over the past decade and what we want to achieve, and his influence will continue to be felt in the years ahead. Jared’s desire to learn and improve himself as a coach has been impressive and it has been this spirit, in particular, that has made him a core part of our culture.

“On behalf of myself, the support staff and the wider club, I would like to thank Jared for his significant contribution to Ulster, and he leaves with our best wishes for this next chapter.”

Meanwhile, it is believed that centre James Hume is winning his battle with a hamstring injury and could start against Northampton Saints on Sunday in the province’s third Heineken Champions Cup tie at Franklin’s Gardens.

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With centre partner Stuart McCloskey guaranteed to miss the game with a hamstring injury of his own, losing Hume would have been a hammer blow for McFarland, however it looks like he will start alongside Stewart Moore in Northampton.

One player that is certain to be making his first European start will be scrum-half Nathan Doak, the 20-year-old set to benefit from John Cooney’s calf injury.

McFarland, though, will be relieved to see electric Ireland winger Robert Baloucoune back in training, to relieve some of the pressure on his back reserves, while Wales hooker Bradley Roberts will add to the depth behind Rob Herring.


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