Payne comes full circle to convince all doubters
Jared Payne's career came full circle yesterday as the man who once cut him from the Waikato squad in 2008 handed him the highest honour the northern hemisphere has to offer at the age of 31.
Assuming Payne gets through the rest of the season unscathed, the Ireland international will become a Lion in June, one of two New Zealand-born players in the squad along with England's former Leinster centre Ben Te'o.
Warren Gatland recalled how he had once released the younger Payne from his squad when he was trying to make it in his home country, before he launched his Super Rugby career and earned a move to Ulster and subsequently became an Ireland international after qualifying on residency.
"I coached Jared Payne when I was at Waikato and didn't renew his contact and let him go so I'm absolutely delighted to see the turnaround. I felt he was a talented individual at the time that he wasn't fulfilling his potential," he said.
"He left Waikato to play for Northland, got selected for the Blues and ended up in Ireland after that and now's he's a Lion."
Payne's ability to play in the centre was a major benefit, according to Rob Howley.
"We've got the ability to play a power game at 12 and the ability to play a passing game," the assistant coach said. "The nature of the game against New Zealand is making sure we have different ways of playing. Hopefully the players go to another level.
"Jared has played 20 Test matches, 17 at No 13, he can play full-back and there's a bit of versatility about him.
"He's played in a side that's beaten the All Blacks and he knows what it takes to win against the All Blacks, and there's not many of those players going on the tour that can say that and I think that's a vital ingredient.
"He's quick, elusive and he offers a different way of playing. When you look at the other centre combinations, we've got the ability to play Owen (Farrell) at 12 as well - it's a competition for places and how we want to play, and that will change throughout the tour," he added. "It's having an open-minded approach, that's the greatest thing about going on a Lions tour.
"A new combination might take us to another level, and to beat the All Blacks we have to go to another level in terms of skill-set and ability."