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'They'd love to see me get smashed' - Payne on familiar soil in Auckland

The Ireland centre left the Blues for Ulster back in 2011.
Jun 6th 2017, 7:15 AM 10,801 2

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

IF AND WHEN Jared Payne ships a big hit tomorrow at Eden Park, he knows the reaction will be one of borderline glee.

A New Zealand native playing for the Lions against his old team, the Blues. There will be some satisfaction for anyone who can dole out the heavy contact on Payne, and the Ireland centre is ready for the whoops of delight.

Mainly, they will come from his mates.

Jared Payne Payne will make his Lions bow tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Hopefully I get it, my mates will probably be the worst out of any of them,” says Payne with a laugh. “They’re an unforgiving bunch and they’d love to see me get smashed by someone probably. It’d make their day. I’d imagine I’d get a bit, but it’s all good fun.”

Back in New Zealand to play for the first time since he left the Blues for Ulster in 2011, Payne is excited about being in familiar surroundings.

“I can’t wait to get out there and the pressure is the same as any other game really,” says Payne, who scored seven tries in 18 games for the Blues in the 2011 Super Rugby season.

You might get a shot on them and they might get a shot on you, a few jokes at the bottom of a ruck, but apart from that it’s just another game and you’ve got to make sure you do your job.”

While there will be a bit of fun and a few markers laid down, the truth is that Payne’s decision to leave New Zealand six years ago couldn’t have worked out better.

The 31-year-old shone for Ulster after recovering from an Achilles injury, graduated into the Ireland team as soon as he was qualified in 2014, and has established himself as a key player under Joe Schmidt.

His selection into Warren Gatland’s Lions squad surprised a few people, including Payne himself, but it merely adds another layer to the happiness he feels at how things have worked out in Ireland – even away from rugby.

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Jared Payne Payne knows he's in for a feisty reception at Eden Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Every now and then you think about it,” says Payne when asked if he ever wonders what might have transpired had he stayed in New Zealand.

“At the time when it happened, and hurting myself when I first got to Ireland, it might have seemed like a bad thing. But now I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve set up a life over there, got a partner and a baby. I wouldn’t change it for the world really. It’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change it.

“I don’t really get caught up in the ‘what ifs’. I’m just over the moon and it’s been an awesome ride. I don’t get too worried about what I missed out on and I’m happy where I am.”

Payne had been pencilled in to make his first Lions appearance off the bench on Saturday against the Provincial Barbarians, but he suffered a calf strain during the week and was pulled to feature tomorrow against the Blues instead.

He will tog out alongside Ireland midfield partner Robbie Henshaw on a big day for both players as they go up against Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala.

“Robbie’s hugely ready, he’s got a lot more confident in himself,” says Payne. “He’s progressed a lot in certain aspects of his game and now is as good a time as any for him to put his best foot forward and carry us through this game.

“He’s a quality player, it’d be nice to run along with him and let him do all the work and maybe pick up a few scraps off him.

Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne celebrate Henshaw and Payne start in midfield tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Robbie’s one of the hardest working players I’ve played with, particularly to have him defending inside you. Nine times out of 10 he’ll get to situations that other people might not. It is a nice comfort to have.”

Payne himself is a tough nut and it’s likely to be useful tomorrow when the hits start flying.

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Murray Kinsella

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