Jared Payne in great position to fuel Ulster's PRO12 trophy charge
Published 21/05/2015 | 12:17
One year after his switch from fullback to centre, Jared Payne now feels right at home in the Ulster number 13 jersey.
Ahead of tomorrow night's PRO12 semi-final with Glasgow in Scotstoun, the Kiwi-born Irish international joked: "It took me a while but I'm feeling pretty comfortable at the moment.
"It's good to put a few games together too. It was a bit stop start for me at the start of the year with injury, then coming back and getting another injury so it's good to put a run together."
Following his return from a victorious Six Nations - Payne started all five games at outside centre and scored a crucial try against Scotland in the first championship since Brian O'Driscoll's retirement - his fledgling midfield partnership with Darren Cave has been a factor in Ulster's improved backline play this spring.
"I think we've played alright the last few games we've been together," he reflected. "We've both played a fair bit of rugby together. We know each other and we're going okay.
"It's going to be a big test for us this week against the Glasgow midfield so we'll have to see how we handle that but we're both happy with the way we're trucking along at the moment."
As Payne, who has recovered from an ankle knock to take part tomorrow, notes, Gregor Townsend's own centres are a formidable duo with Peter Horne having been voted onto the PRO12 Dream Team last week and former back-rower Richie Vernon now fully adapted to the position after his own switch to number 13 at the beginning of last season.
The pair form part of a dangerous backline that saw the Scottish outfit score more tries than any team in the PRO12 bar fellow home semi-finalists Munster this season and Payne needs no reminding of the table-topping side's credentials.
"Obviously Glasgow are top of the league, they've won the round-robin if you like, so they're a very good team," he said. "It's all against us but the past doesn't count. We've just got to look at what's in front of us.
"The Glasgow side have been pretty good all year, they've done a job, and they're flying high.
"It's going to be a huge ask but we're going to give it our best shot and see where we end up on Friday night.
"If we bring our 'A' game we'll be competitive hopefully and I just hope we can do that."
While impressed by their league campaign, Payne does not, however, feel that Glasgow's most recent victory will have much bearing on proceedings tomorrow.
They beat a much-changed Ulster side 32-10 last weekend but, with only a handful of starters set to be retained, the returning stars should make a sizeable difference.
"It's (the expected changes) a bit of experience in the team I guess you could say with the knockout games that we've lost over the last couple of years. Hopefully it should bode well for the team," said Payne.
"I thought Glasgow performed pretty well at the weekend, they took their chances when we switched off and I'm sure we didn't score as many points or take our opportunities in the first-half that we could have."
If victory is to be secured tomorrow, Payne knows that such profligacy cannot be repeated.