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'I coached Jared when I was at Waikato and I didn't renew his contract'

Warren Gatland has ended up picking Jared Payne for the Lions a decade after cutting him.

IT’S A SMALL world we live in and even more so when we’re talking about rugby.

Warren Gatland once released Jared Payne from his squad because he didn’t feel the back was fulfilling his potential.

Today, Warren Gatland called the Jared Payne up for the Lions – a squad that both of these men almost certainly didn’t realise they would represent in the future.

pjimage 2 Gatland has selected Payne in his Lions squad. Source: Inpho

Gatland was head coach of Waikato from 2005 until 2007 and Payne was in his squad for the second and third years of that time, playing as a fullback or right wing in those days.

But Gatland wasn’t impressed with what Tauranga man Payne was demonstrating on the training ground and on match days. So before leaving Waikato to take up the role  of Wales head coach, Gatland cut him.

A decade later, Gatland has included 31-year-old Payne in his Lions squad to travel to New Zealand.

“The great thing about Jared Payne is that I coached Jared when I was at Waikato and I didn’t renew his contract and let him go,” said Gatland in London today.

“I’m absolutely delighted to see the turnaround. He’s obviously a talented individual and I felt at the time that he wasn’t fulfilling his potential. He left Waikato, went to play for Northland and got selected for Super Rugby, ended up in Ireland and is now playing for Ireland and will be a British and Irish Lion.”

Indeed, Payne’s career only took off in 2008 with Northland, earning him a Super Rugby contract with the Crusaders in 2009 – he was almost exclusively a right wing that season.

By 2011 he was lining out in the 13 shirt for the Blues, spending a single season with them before Ulster lured him to Ireland and his potential as a project players was immediately clear.

“The change in his career is obviously outstanding,” said Gatland.

Jared Payne sidesteps Alby Mathewson Payne in action for the Crusaders in 2009. Source: Photosport/Simon Watts/INPHO

Payne has shown class and reliability at both outside centre and fullback in recent years for Ulster and Ireland, with his versatility being an attractive part of the picture in earning him Lions selection for this summer.

He suffered an horrendous kidney injury during the November Tests last year and only returned for the final game of the Six Nations, but proved his quality to Gatland and co. at fullback in Ireland’s win over England.

Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell has seen first-hand how good a player Payne is, but he insists it wasn’t his influence that ensured the Kiwi native made the final squad.

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“It wasn’t just my insight, Warren has coached him before,” said Farrell. “Warren knows him well.

“And when you’re coaching against opposition guys that you know inside out through analytical purposes, which a number of these coaches have, they see what type of player Jared is.

“We all know back in Ireland how important he is to galvanising a backline together, the experience he’s had and how he’s able to perform in big games is super important to a squad like this.”

The Lions like that Payne has shown up well for Ireland against the best teams in the world and we have long known that Joe Schmidt is a huge fan of the Ulsterman’s.

Now the likes of Gatland, Farrell and Lions attack coach Rob Howley are backing Payne.

“He understands and knows how to beat Southern Hemisphere teams,” said Howley of why they selected Payne. “He’s been part of a team that’s beaten Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. He came back against England and they beat them in the Aviva in the last game.

Jared Payne Payne's Lions headshot. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“When you look at our centres, there’s a lot of points of difference we need to play against New Zealand. Jared offers pace and power.

“Obviously one of the tactical areas we need to make sure is that New Zealand don’t play in wider channels. It’s not only about attack, it’s about defence. That’s going to be a challenge and he’s certainly got a combination with Robbie Henshaw.

“They played together when they beat New Zealand so they know how to beat New Zealand. His communication skills are excellent, his organisation when you watch him play.

“I’m certainly looked forward to working with those centres in particular, because I know those centres will bring out the best in each other. Then you’ve got the likes of Jonathan Joseph, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o, we’ve got the ability to play Owen Farrell at 12 as well.”

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