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New dad Payne ready to lay down the law

Kiwi taking confidence from win over Glasgow but knows the best is still to come from Ulster in quest to maintain their perfect start

By Jonathan Bradley

After a delayed pre-season, Jared Payne made his first appearance of the campaign last week, but, despite hardly missing a beat on his return, he continues to battle one considerable adversary - his alarm clock.

Payne and his partner Christina became first-time parents to baby boy Jake back in August with the Irish international admitting that sleepless nights were his main concern ahead of getting back into the thick of it with his province against Ospreys this evening (6.30pm kick-off, Kingspan Stadium).

"I've just had a baby boy and at the minute just getting up and getting to training is an achievement," he joked.

"I haven't managed to look that far ahead yet. I just worry about getting up every morning and being here on time. There's been a few sleepless nights so if I'm here on time, I'm happy."

Few players in Irish rugby at present attract such volume of discussion over their best position with Payne having played both full-back and outside centre since arriving on these shores in 2011.

The 20-times capped former out-half Tony Ward wrote this week that, in Payne, Charles Piutau and Louis Ludik, Ulster arguably have the best three full-backs on the island on current form but Payne, wearing No.13 tonight, is keen to sidestep any debate about where he is best deployed in either white or green.

"Charles normally goes into Kissy's office on a Monday and says what he wants and we all just do that," he declared with a chuckle. "We can chop and change which is a good thing."

Nor does Payne see the battle for playing time as a contest solely between the squad's senior players. Youngsters Rob Lyttle and Jacob Stockdale made a big impact in the opening games and the naturalised Kiwi sees the pair still getting minutes in a crowded back division.

On watching the emerging talents earlier this month, he said: "I was more thinking I better get my act together or I'm going to be on the pine a lot this season.

"The young guys, they push us old guys along. You need to create an environment where it doesn't matter whether you've played a hundred times or only a few. If you're playing the best this week, it's your position.

"The more we create that environment, push each other, be honest, it's going to bode well for the team and that's what we want."

Soon to turn 31 - his birthday this year will surely be better spent than 12 months ago when he was in hospital awaiting foot surgery - he says he is yet to give too much thought to November's pair of Tests against the nation of his birth.

While his mind will surely become focused on the All Blacks come early next week when Joe Schmidt assembles his Ireland hopefuls for a training camp, for now he is enjoying his rugby with Ulster.

"I think the pleasing thing about Glasgow was we just enjoyed playing pretty simple rugby. We didn't look at the scoreboard too much and we tried to take chances when they were there," he said.

"Character building? I guess you could say that but out on the pitch, it didn't feel that special to tell you the truth. All the boys just enjoyed playing simple rugby and it was effective on the day. It was a fun game to be a part of more than anything else."

Even still, a win against a side with title aspirations on a bogey ground, and as part of a four from four start, surely has the squad in a confident mood ahead of tackling the Ospreys. "It gives you a bit of confidence but the key thing was how we enjoyed what we did," Payne said. "Hopefully we take that forward.

"Regardless of the result, good or bad, we'll assess a performance honestly.

"The confidence is growing but we know we're not doing as well as we could do.

"We're trying to improve and that's the most pleasing thing. Even though we're winning we're still looking to get better.

"You never want to think you're top dog or you've made it. If you're constantly trying to improve then you're going to get better. We have to keep that all season."

Indeed, Payne believes that an improvement from last week's performance will be required this evening if Ulster are to extend their winning run to five games and maintain an unbeaten home record that stretches back to February.

"They're a very dangerous team," Payne said of Steve Tandy's men. "They've got a pretty talented tight-five, a pretty formidable loose forwards unit and a nine and 10 combo who can control a game and win it on their own.

"We've got to play as well, if not better, than we played against Glasgow.

"Ospreys had a bit of a slip last week, they'll be coming here hurting and we've got to make sure we respond."

All Payne needs first is a good night's sleep.

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