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Payne is determined to seize the moment


Back in action: Jared Payne made his return for Ulster against Edinburgh last week after injury disrupted the start of his season

Back in action: Jared Payne made his return for Ulster against Edinburgh last week after injury disrupted the start of his season

Back in action: Jared Payne made his return for Ulster against Edinburgh last week after injury disrupted the start of his season

Jared Payne tells a story about Les Kiss which is apt, particularly in light of what occurred earlier this week.

Payne was at one of the Ireland get-togethers at Carton House, which he had been brought into this pre-season after serving out his time to be qualified to play for his adopted country, when he happened to notice that Kiss hadn't quite entirely bought into the expected change of livery.

Instead of being entirely kitted out in the national side's colours, Payne noticed that his headgear seemed rather familiar to what was being worn at the Kingspan Stadium.

"We were down at one of the Ireland camps there and he still had his red hat on," says Payne laughing at the memory.

"I guess he was keeping the Ulster spirit (going) which was good," the Kiwi added.

Needless to say, Payne hardly has to be invited to extol the virtues of the man who will ultimately be director of rugby in about 12 months' time and who steps away from being interim coach after tonight's clash with Glasgow.

That will leave now head coach Neil Doak and co to navigate their way through the rest of the season starting with Leicester Tigers away for their first European outing.

"Les is awesome," says the 28-year-old who is unsurprisingly retained at outside centre for tonight's clash with the Warriors.

"He's a great coach. His attention to detail is right up there and he's very passionate about the sport.

"I've really enjoyed working with Les this year. He's been good for the team and he's been steering the ship in the right direction.

"Him along with Doaky, Dinger and Clarkey have taken it all in their stride, the ups and downs, the upheaval, whatever you guys call it," Payne adds referring to the departures of David Humphreys and fellow Kiwi Mark Anscombe, the latter who he has been in contact with while the ex-coach has stayed on in the province.

"They haven't let it affect the playing group and we've just carried on with things."

And while on the subject of general positivity, Payne's very presence in the Ireland set-up can hardly be ignored which seems to already bring a weary smile as the inevitable query about his aspirations to fill the green number 13 jersey is thrown his way.

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"You put it to the back of your mind," is his response to articulating his Ireland ambitions for next month's autumn internationals.

Though when it comes to describing what it is like to come under Joe Schmidt's direct gaze, Payne is much more forthcoming after his two visits to Carton House.

"Joe is a bloody great coach and he is just like Les when it comes to the detail and knowledge of the game.

"Joe knows what he wants and he delivers his message well and as a player it's your responsibility to do it.

"If you don't do it, you'll be caught out and told off and you don't do it again. If you're not prepared to take it on the chin and move on then you shouldn't be there," Payne adds when asked about Schmidt's noted prickliness when his high standards are not met.

But what about the that green number 13 jersey? Not surprisingly, Payne appears somewhat evasive.

"We'll see what happens, but I have to focus on Ulster and playing week in and week out," he adds which is actually a decent enough point to make due to his limited game time this season.

Indeed, after picking up a hip injury on the opening day at the Scarlets, Payne missed three games before returning against Edinburgh last week.

He was understandably rusty against former Ulster coach Alan Solomons' squad though that hardly helped ease his frustration.

"You know you always want to come back and be at the top of your game but I was a bit disappointed with how I played," Payne admits.

"It felt like my first game of the season. I had a little bit of game time against Leinster and then 30 minutes before I got hurt against Scarlets.

"There were just a few timing issues and forcing things a bit (against Edinburgh) but it really felt like my first game.

"I think it's hard to judge your form on one game but I set pretty high standards for myself and I'll have to step it up a gear."

The intense competition for places in Ulster's midfield is also something the Kiwi has to contend with, he points out, with no guarantee available of an automatic start for him.

"It's really competitive but that's what you want," he states. "You don't own the jersey, you get given it and when you do get it, you've got to put your best foot forward.

"We're all keeping on our toes at training as everyone is trying to outdo each other.

"It actually makes your training better which hopefully makes you play better."

He knows what needs to be done tonight.

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