Jared Payne claims he's an 'Irishman' in response to Neil Francis' question marks over his nationality
Ireland centre and native New Zealander Jared Payne claims that he's a 'converted Irishman' in light of former Ireland lock Neil Francis' column in last weekend's Sunday Independent.
Francis, who was capped 36 times by Ireland between 1987 and 1996, wrote that Payne and fellow Ireland teammate CJ Stander (born in South Africa) may have performed to a high level for Ireland, and that while their rugby integrity and commitment to the national team is undoubted, the issue remained that both players are not Irish.
Francis wrote: 'The issue is that they are not Irish. Your heritage and the nationhood of this island cannot be bartered for just because the governing body of our sport did not move quickly enough to close off the completely inadequate 36-month residency rule.
'I have always profoundly and vehemently disagreed with this principle. The green shirt is not for sale. Only Irish people should represent Ireland in our sport, no matter how good a foreign alternative is.'
Payne, who qualified for Ireland in 2014 under the three-year residency rule, after signing for Ulster in 2011, responded to Francis' criticisms on Tuesday and said that he was a 'converted Irishman' and that he had no plans on leaving Ireland anytime soon, with plans to marry his Belfast born fiancée sometime in the future.
"It's the longest I've ever been in one place, in Belfast, and my fiancée, she's from Belfast and we've got a nine-month old baby boy that was born over here," Payne told stuff.co.nz on Tuesday.
"We've got a house and a dog and the whole nine yards really, so I'm well and truly and converted and can't see myself going too far in the near future."
Payne, who has been capped 20 times by Ireland since making his debut against South Africa in the 2014 November internationals, says that while Francis and others are entitled to their opinion, the former Crusaders winger only really values the thoughts of his Ireland teamamtes, who he claims have embraced him as a local.
"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion and can voice them, but I'm more than happy with how the guys treat me and they look on me as a local," added Payne.
"I'm more about it's the guys that you play with. If they all accept you and they're happy with you, then that's what counts. That's always been the case for me. It's no skin off my back."
Payne is one of two New Zealanders selected to tour their country of origin this summer with Aucklander and former Leinster centre Ben Te'o also named in Warren Gatland's 41-man squad.
The Lions will fly out from London on the 29th of May and will play their first game against the New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei on June 3rd, a ground where Payne captained New Zealand provincial side Northland during his stint with the Taniwha between 2008 and 2011.