Tuesday 22 August 2017

Irish Super heroes to reveal insider knowledge to tourists

CJ Stander pictured outside the team hotel in Auckland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
CJ Stander pictured outside the team hotel in Auckland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

For Jared Payne and CJ Stander, this is familiar ground.

The Lions jersey is new and exciting, but the Blues at Auckland's Eden Park is a familiar challenge from their Super Rugby days. As the southern hemisphere men in Warren Gatland's squad, their knowledge will be useful.

Payne is expecting a bit of abuse when he goes up against his old team and Stander, who faced his native South Africa last summer, knows exactly what he is about to go through. So, any advice?

"Don't get a red card in the first 40, probably," Stander said with a smile, recalling his sending off at Newlands last year.

"No, just do what he does week-in, week-out, play his game and make sure he doesn't get distracted.

"He's a good professional and he's worked hard to get here so he knows what to do."

Stander is relishing the opportunity to get back to the Super Rugby way of playing and is expecting a change of pace and a ruthless streak from the New Zealand sides, who are dominating the competition.

"When you make a mistake or you give them the ball they're just going to punish you," he said.

"That's the way they play. They bring a lot of speed to the game. The intensity is up there. And also the kicking game, I think you need to control that, and you need to look after your lineout.

"They've a few good operators in the lineout. Yeah, I think with the intensity you cannot lose the ball, or otherwise they're going to punish you. I've played against the Blues, a few years back, and I'll know some of the stuff they'll do.

"They're a good team, it's a big step up again from last weekend. I'm looking forward to getting back to that Super Rugby kind of game."

Payne is also relishing his return, having overcome his calf problem to start alongside Robbie Henshaw at outside centre, opposite the All Black pairing of Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala.

"It's pretty demanding at times, the speed of the game down here is demanding in general," he said.

"If it's a dry night that ball is going to be whipped around. It's going to be tough, but it's up to us to put our systems in place defensively and hopefully negate it. It's going to be a challenge, which is good."

Coach Warren Gatland is expecting the New Zealand-born Ulster back to help his colleagues through the game.

"One of the reasons Payne was picked was because of his experience in New Zealand, and being involved with the Blues," he said. "He's also played in a number of big games that Ireland have won. He's been one of the key components of their success and I think Robbie Henshaw has been outstanding.

"He's a quality player and he's more than someone who can get across the gain line. He has real skill and we want to see that.

"The fact Jared gets on the pitch is the biggest achievement. But given his experience, there's his leadership and ability to express, not just his playing ability but also a calmness to the rest of the squad about the fact he's been there and played at Eden Park - and for the opposition, too."

Payne knows what's coming, whether on the pitch or from the stands, and he'll take it in his usual laid-back style.

"Hopefully I get it (the abuse)," he said with a wry smile

"My mates will probably be the worst out of any of them. 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."

Just weeks after fearing his tour of New Zealand was over before it started, Ken Owens was named as captain. But it could have been so different for the Welsh hooker, with the 30-year-old missing the end of the season through an ankle injury that kept him out of the Scarlets momentous Pro12 final victory.

"I was a bit worried having done the scans, speaking to the specialist," Owens said. "I then spoke to the doctor and physio afterwards who said 'there's nothing we can do now, just do everything you can to get yourself fit and right for the trip'.

"It was literally three days of icing and feet up and thankfully it was good enough to go to the second camp in Dublin. Once I got to Ireland, I was a lot more confident of making the trip."

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