Monday 16 September 2019

Jared Payne finds silver lining in new role as a coach at Ulster

NEW ROLE: Former Ireland back Jared Payne. Photo: Sportsfile
NEW ROLE: Former Ireland back Jared Payne. Photo: Sportsfile

Dacid Kelly

Last Friday, World Rugby announced the latest in a series of initiatives that they hope will reduce the prospect of recurring serious injuries, of which so many have prompted premature retirement, and mercifully few have led to far more grave outcomes.

The aim is to limit the numbers of concussions - primarily but not exclusively - in the sport, and its primary cause, dangerous head-high tackles. This is the key ambition of the trials which will be showcased at this summer's U-20 World Cup in France.

Regardless of the varied opinions on the potential for the new tweaks to have any lasting impact, there is at least universal acknowledgement that the ongoing attempts of administrators to address the spiralling spate of serious injuries demands constant review.

Serious injury - including concussion - will continue to occur, but World Rugby's duty is to ensure that their sport limits the potential for such outcomes and this is just the latest in a series of initiatives being rolled out to determine that the game can be more assertive in limiting often life-changing results.

It is impossible to say how successful an approach may be but, compared to the often laissez-faire attitude that only recently existed, particularly with relation to concussion, on behalf of players, coaches, medical staff and officials at all levels, any recognition of the need for constant review must be greeted with acclaim.

It is also impossible to determine how many players have been affected by the often anarchic manner in which the sport was governed in the past.

But, as we now sadly know, cases of retirement, life-changing injury and, tragically, death have revealed that the current state of microscopic investigation, as opposed to wilful ignorance, is of vital importance.

Jared Payne's retirement, which was officially announced yesterday, was not directly linked to concussion but Ulster did assert he retired due to a "head" injury.

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Nonetheless, as the growing realisation this season that the naturalised Irishman, at just 32, would have to concede defeat in the battle against the recurring headaches which have dogged him since New Zealand, his is just another name added to the list of those who have had to step away from the sport prematurely.

Intimate link

It will be little consolation for someone who so dearly wanted to play the game again but at least he can now retain an intimate link with it, as Ulster confirmed his appointment as full-time defence coach while Joe Schmidt has added him to his coaching ticket for next month's tour to Australia.

Payne has had many months to contemplate the often fraught transition away from the playing field, which will help, and Schmidt's identification of the Auckland man offers a firm indication that he can thrive in a tracksuit.

On Thursday, the Irish coach will expand on his addition - augmenting the initial impact Ronan O'Gara made on last year's summer tour as Ireland tentatively begin their plan of succession beyond 2019.

But when Payne began the process of aiding the Ulster defence, and his influence was key as the hitherto struggling side scrambled into Champions Cup qualification next season, Schmidt had already hailed his erstwhile utility back's influence.

"He's got a real understanding of the game, so to have him involved in coaching at Ulster and to have that experience that he brought to our team, I think you only have to ask the players how comfortable he made other players feel because he understood the game. That's got to be good."

It would be no surprise to discover that, even though both men were still determined in the spring to pursue a playing path, contact had already been made to ensure that Payne would have some involvement on this summer's tour as Ireland seek an historic series win in Australia.

"I've surprised myself how much I have enjoyed coaching and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this role," said Payne, confirming that he was "giving up his dream" which, lamentably, became a nightmare for him since last summer.

"He was a fantastic player who was exceptionally gifted, having had a huge influence in the game in both attack and defence," said their manager Bryn Cunningham.

"While we will lose Jared's ability on the pitch, we now gain another astute rugby brain on the sidelines. We have known that this would be a potential outcome for some time and integrating him into the coaching side of things over the past few months, it has proved to be very successful.

"The positive feedback from senior coaches within Irish rugby and players themselves is testament to the early impression he has made."

Payne's dream may be over but a new reality can harbour some sense of a silver lining.

Irish Independent

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