'The sky is the limit for him' – Payne's praise for rising star Doak

The scrum-half has burst onto the scene, earning man of the match honours in Ulster’s wins over Zebre and Benetton

Ulster scrum-half Nathan Doak.
Ulster scrum-half Nathan Doak.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

ULSTER ASSISTANT COACH Jared Payne says he doesn’t want to compare rising star Nathan Doak to any of the province’s previous scrum-halves – including the 19-year-old’s own father.

The son of Neil, a former player and head coach at Kingspan Stadium, Doak has burst onto the scene with a bang, earning man of the match honours in Ulster’s wins over Zebre and Benetton in the last two weeks.

He may have only made two starts for the province in his young career, but that has led to some lofty expectations of the teenager, with some already putting forth cases for why Andy Farrell should be looking at him for the Autumn Internationals.

Others, meanwhile, believe he should hold onto the starting shirt at Ulster even when John Cooney returns from a hamstring injury he picked up after half an hour of that opening victory over the Glasgow Warriors.

But Payne is staying realistic about Doak’s trajectory, admitting that while there is no denying his talent and potential, they shouldn’t be placing this kind of pressure on him so early in his career.

“He’s got a great feel for the game and that’s probably come from his old man. He’s been around rugby a lot growing up so he naturally makes good decisions. He’s got a good understanding for the game, a good feel for the game and he’s got some pretty tremendous athletic ability to back that up,” praised Payne.

“I never would have picked him doing as well as he has but I think it’s a credit to the time that he’s put in with his old man and being around good environments and picking up some good stuff along the way. So fair play.

“But I think he’s got a lot more in him, which is going to be good. He’s a good kid and he wants to learn too, so the sky is the limit for him at the moment, which is good to see.”

Some have already likened the former Wallace High stand-out to Belfast’s adopted son Ruan Pienaar given how effortless the pair both make the game look, but Payne maintained they are not looking for Doak to become a replica of the ex-Springbok.

“He’s got a lot of strengths, he’s got a great kick, he’s taller and there’s a nice flow to his game, similar to Ruan’s. Ruan had a very good feel for the game, Nathan’s got that as well,” conceded the defence coach, who played alongside Pienaar for six seasons.

“There are similarities, I guess, but Nathan is his own man. He’s got a few other bits and pieces, things that are different to Ru. He’s going to definitely find his own way.

“He’s not going to be the next Ruan Pienaar, he’s going to be Nathan Doak. Hopefully a very good version of that.”

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Doak’s next start will likely come against the Emirates Lions at Kingspan Stadium on Friday as Ulster look to continue their perfect start to the United Rugby Championship campaign in their first game against one of the four new South African teams in the competition.

Payne knows more than most what the new teams will bring to the league having faced them while with the Crusaders and Blues in the early part of his career, and he’s excited to get the chance to plot their downfall with Ulster.

“Yeah, it’s new having a South African team over here. We’ll face different ones and they all bring their own individual flair to the game, it’s exciting for us. They’re going to be great for the league, they bring a different style,” he said.

“When we go down there, it’s going to make the league even more interesting. It’s been good to welcome them here, but it’s a different world down there. A different challenge for a lot of people going to places like Loftus (Versfeld).

“That’s a special place when it’s bouncing. It’ll be great for us to experience that.”

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