Jared Payne: 'We need to bring a little extra in attack to get the better of Wales'
Such is his desire to make Joe Schmidt’s starting XV for Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Wales on Sunday, Jared Payne isn’t too bothered what position he’s selected in.
The Ulster back has been Schmidt’s go to number 13 since Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement in 2014, as one half of a midfield duo with Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw. Yet, there’s a growing consensus that the former Blues standout would better serve the Irish cause at full-back.
That particular argument has been strengthened by his performances there for Ulster since returning from a foot injury he sustained in the World Cup. For Payne, simply being in the mix is what matters most.
“They’re pushing me into 10 once or twice,” he joked today in Carton House. “I have been training all over the shop the last few weeks. I’m happy wherever.
“As long as you get on the field, after the first two or three phases, you get to play pretty much what’s in front of you and that’s when you start to enjoy the game. I’m not too fussed where I get put. I’ll wait for Joe to make that call and do my job on the weekend.”
Should he and Henshaw be selected together again for the clash with the Welsh, they will have to overcome the fact that they have had next to no game time together since this time last year. Payne, however, is confident that that obstacle can be overcome.
Even if they are to be pitted against the formidable Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies whom, because of injuries to the latter, are also without much time in the harness together. Yet, they have over four years as a unit to go on.
“No we have plenty of time (him and Henshaw). We have been training for a week and a half and there is only so much you can do on a rugby field. You get there with experience how to pick things up quickly. I have seen most things but it is just getting back into a bit of rhythm. We have done that over the last week and a half as a group.
“They’re big boys (Davies and Roberts) as you say, very accomplished footballers, have played a lot of rugby together and they have a greater partnership there with (Dan) Biggar running the show.
“It’s definitely a challenge. They probably came out on top the last time. As a group they dominated us so it is up to us this time to stand up to them and try and match them physically and bring a little extra in attack.”
Speaking of centres, Payne believes his Ulster colleague Stuart McCloskey is more than ready to step up to the test plate and, having seen him in training today, is suitably impressed by Garry Ringrose.
“He's a great, great footballer,” he enthused about Ringrose. “He's very calm and collected on the ball. He's quick, he's got good hands and he makes good decisions so he's only going to get better and better with a bit more exposure. Fingers crossed he can come through.
“He is a pretty big tank (McCloskey), a big boy and he’s been playing outstanding rugby for Ulster. He has got that opportunity with a few injuries to the likes of Stuart Olding and he has taken his chance. Fair play to him, he’s been great. He is a big ball carrier, subtle hands and he’s learning the game very well. If he gets a chance I’m sure he will do a good job.”