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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 31 October 2020

Jared Payne increasingly comfortable in Ireland's famous 13 shirt

The New Zealand native tells us about working with Joe Schmidt and playing alongside Robbie Henshaw.

HE MAY BE only three caps into his Ireland career, but Jared Payne is far from your usual international rookie.

His debut last November came at the age of 29, after more than 50 appearances for Ulster, as well as plenty of Super Rugby experience with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues prior to his move to Ireland in 2011.

Jared Payne Payne has hit the three-cap mark for Ireland, with many more to come. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Qualified thanks to three years of residency, Payne has been rapidly installed as the successor to Brian O’Driscoll as Schmidt’s outside centre, and his trio of outings so far have been strong, even if one senses there is much more to come.

The New Zealand native himself informs The42 that international rugby is “everything you sort of expect,” although there appears to be genuine excitement when he talks about the “buzz” he’s discovered around the Six Nations and the support it brings.

That aside, Payne is as laid-back a character as you’re likely to meet in this Ireland set-up. He doesn’t seem flustered by anything he’s come across yet in midfield, nor what lies ahead in the coming weeks.

The 6ft 2ins centre has made his greatest impression on Ulster fans with his counter-attacking and playmaking interventions from the 15 shirt, but playing in the centre for Ireland means those opportunities are limited.

Such is the way of the international game, says Payne, admitting that “you’ve got to be prepared to run into a brick wall more often than not” due to the quality and organisation of the opposition defences.

Try-scoring chances simply don’t come along very often, which made some of the failings last weekend against France all the more frustrating. Payne was involved in the most notable miss of them all, as Johnny Sexton fired a second-half pass at his face with France’s defence majorly stretched.

“We probably screwed up a few chances at the weekend,” admits Payne. “Obviously Johnny and myself, that wee pass there, we didn’t finish that off and it was quite disappointing.

Jared Payne and Jonathan Sexton celebrate after the game Payne and Sexton were disappointed at their missed opportunity. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“There was another couple of opportunities that we identified in the review that we didn’t take. I think we’re creating them, we’ve just got to be a bit better at going to the space when it’s there.

“I think Johnny nine times out of ten is probably going to dummy that and go himself. Maybe it could be down to him being out for a little while, but he’s going to make the right decision there more often than not and I’ve got to make sure I’m an option for him, and try to catch it a bit better next time I think!”

Payne is enjoying his burgeoning centre partnership with Robbie Henshaw, as well as noting how the modest 21-year-old becomes “a different animal” when he crosses the white line.

The Ulsterman credits Henshaw with making his job easier in defence, as well as highlighting the chat coming from Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe outside.

It’s not an individual thing, defence; it’s a group thing and if you stay connected and get your communication good, you just have to make tackles,” explains Payne.

“You’ve got to get used to playing with anyone, don’t you? The more you play with them, the quicker you pick up on what they might do. You’ve got more of an idea of what they might do in certain areas, so there is a bit of that.

“Each week we [himself and Henshaw] seem to be learning something different about the other person, which is good. Hopefully we can continue to improve and grow that partnership.”

Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw Payne and Henshaw are learning to play alongside one another. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Payne admits that there were collective defensive issues for Ireland against France, namely “scanning” and “numbering up” when they tired late on in the game, leading to that conceded try.

Defence coach Les Kiss has dealt with that, while Schmidt took a chunk of this week’s short camp in Galway to go through the review of the France game in as detailed a fashion as the players have become used to.

Despite their shared links to the Blues franchise back in Auckland, Payne reveals he had never met Schmidt before coming across him in Ireland.

I didn’t know him in New Zealand at all, just once I started to come near the three years of being here, he started to talk to me a bit then. Also obviously when Leinster beat Ulster a few times, unfortunately from there as well.”

Payne was integrated into the Ireland set-up last August, even before his qualification to play in September. Unsurprisingly, Schmidt already had an outstanding knowledge of what kind of player Payne was, where he needed to work to improve and what his strengths were.

“I think Joe probably knows every rugby player in the world inside out,” says Payne. “His knowledge is unreal, so he had a fairly good idea, yeah.”

As with the vast majority of his teammates, Payne speaks of an enjoyable working relationship with Ireland’s head coach. They’re hardly likely to say anything else, but there certainly is real respect between Schmidt and his playing staff.

Jared Payne and Joe Schmidt Payne hadn't worked with Schmidt before joining the Ireland squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Payne is yet another player who enjoys the heavy demands of Schmidt’s regime.

“It’s very good to work under Joe, he puts you under a fair bit of pressure at training. But that relates, because in a game you’re under pressure, aren’t you? So if you’re used to getting under the pump during the week, it doesn’t come as a shock at the weekend.

“It’s good, he demands a lot, tells you what he wants and if you do it, it’s all good. If you can’t, he lets you know.”

Having said that, Payne will have enjoyed the couple of days off since the camp broke up on Wednesday afternoon in Galway, taking the chance to “chill out” and catch up with friends, as well as a supportive family back in New Zealand.

While a World Cup meeting with the All Blacks later this year might test his parents’ new-found affinity with Ireland, for now Payne is getting full support.

“They love it, they’re all behind me 100%,” says the centre. “Mum and Dad get up at whatever hour it is in the morning and watch all the games. Mum came over in November, although unfortunately she came over for the Georgia and Australia games when I was injured.

“She didn’t see me playing rugby! But they’re behind me, they love Ireland and support me all the way.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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