Jared Payne relishing going up against his former team

Jared Payne relishing going up against his former team

The week Jared Payne has had penciled into his diary since the start of the season has finally arrived, as he prepares to take on his former team.

Payne spent more than a decade with Ulster Rugby as player and coach, winning 20 caps for Ireland along the way.

After spending a year in France working at Clermont Auvergne, he moved to west Wales last summer to join the coaching staff at the Scarlets.

It’s in that role he now finds himself going up against Ulster who are the visitors to Llanelli this Saturday for a BKT URC clash.

“When I first came here, I did check out when the Ulster fixture was,” admits the 38-year-old.

“It’s like anything in nature, you want to check that one off in the book and see when it is.

“I still keep in touch with a few of those guys and I will catch up with them before and after the game.

“I was there for ten, eleven years and I’ve got lots of fond memories. I can’t fault anything that happened. It was a good time there.”

Payne joined Ulster in 2011 having had Super Rugby spells with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues in his native New Zealand.

He soon made a mark in Belfast, both with his assured displays and his versatility, being able to slot in at centre, full-back and wing.

After qualifying for Ireland on residency, he established himself on the Test stage and in 2017 he was selected for the Lions tour of the land where he was born.

“It was a great thing going back to New Zealand,” he said.

“I never thought I would get to play rugby down there again.”

Yet that trip was to end up being his final chapter as a player. Towards the end of a try-scoring outing against the Chiefs in Hamilton, he suffered a head injury which was to ultimately force his retirement.

“The interesting point is I played my first and last professional game at the same ground,” he says.

“My first game as a pretty young fella was at Waikato Stadium and then so was my last one as a professional from overseas. “You go round the whole world and end up finishing in the same place you started.

“It’s funny the way the world works.

“It was a bit annoying having to retire through injury, but I had a lot of highlights throughout my time.

“I enjoyed the whole thing. There were good and bad times. It’s the ups and downs of professional sport, but in general I had a pretty good time. I was pretty lucky with what I got to do.”

Payne transitioned into coaching at Ulster in 2018 and admits it was an eye-opening experience.

“The work that goes on behind the scenes from a coach gave me a real shock,” he said.

“There is a lot to learn, a lot of homework.

“The game changes all the time. Things are constantly moving.

“You have got to work a bit harder to stay involved as a coach and the days are that much longer. But it’s all good, it’s all part of it.”

Payne continued: “I was always a bit of a grumpy player at times when I shouldn’t have been.

“Sometimes you expect a lot out of yourself and those around you. I have probably had to chill out a bit more as a coach!

“You learn a few lessons coaching that I wish I had known as a player. I try and stay reasonably level headed.

“You are always learning something new. If you think you know it all in coaching, you are going to get a hell of a shock.

“You are constantly learning, constantly trying new stuff.

“I definitely coach a lot differently now compared to when I first started.”

Having been a defence coach at Ulster and Clermont, Payne switched to attack on joining Scarlets, but since February he has reverted to primarily focusing on defensive duties.

“It’s good here,” said the father-of-two.

“The family is settled, there are lots of nice beaches around.

“It’s a bit colder than France, it took a while to get used to that again, but I definitely can’t complain. It’s a lovely part of the world and the people are very friendly.”

He concluded: “I am very fortunate to still be involved in the game. I am very lucky.”

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