Payne well behind Jared now, after shock selection in British and Irish Lions squad

Jared Payne is looking forward to Warren Gatland shouting him a beer, with the Kiwi duo to be reunited in the most remarkable of fashions in the British and Irish Lions squad, a decade after the coach cut the utility back from his Waikato squad.

After Payne's second season with the Mooloos in 2007, Gatland had been largely uninspired by his performances, that he opted not to re-sign him for the following year.

It left Payne looking elsewhere, and linking with Northland, while, ironically, Gatland never actually oversaw Waikato in 2008 anyway, because he was appointed as Wales coach.

Jared Payne's move overseas has done wonders for his rugby career, representing Ireland, and now being selected for the ...

Jared Payne's move overseas has done wonders for his rugby career, representing Ireland, and now being selected for the British and Irish Lions.

In a funny sort of way, Payne's forced move may have actually got him to where he is today.

It sent him out of his comfort zone and into a new environment up north, where after one season the Crusaders came calling, and he was able to get consistent Super Rugby time, having debuted for the Chiefs in 2007.

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Jared Payne, in one of his last appearances for Waikato, in 2007, before Warren Gatland cut him from the following ...

Jared Payne, in one of his last appearances for Waikato, in 2007, before Warren Gatland cut him from the following year's squad.

Two seasons in Christchurch, then one at the Blues followed, as he showcased flair at centre and fullback, before he decided on the biggest move of all - to Irish club Ulster. And it turned out to be a fantastic rugby decision. Payne may well never have got a chance to wear the silver fern, but here he is, the 31-year-old now having played at the international level 20 times, for Ireland - having beaten the All Blacks last year - and now also coming to grips with his shock selection in Gatland's Lions squad for the tour to New Zealand.

When contacted by Fairfax Media, Payne was getting on with day-to-day life, putting nine-month-old son Jake to bed, and still comprehending what had happened earlier in the day, quite likely being a beneficiary of a late decision by the Lions to go with 41, rather than 37, players.

"I'm pretty shocked," Payne said. "I wasn't expecting it at all.

British and Irish Lions tour dates in New Zealand - June/July 2017

3 June:   NZ Barbarians v Lions - Toll Stadium, Whangarei 
7 June:   Blues v Lions -  Eden Park, Auckland 
10 June: Crusaders v Lions - AMI Stadium, Christchurch
13 June: Highlanders v Lions - Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
17 June: Māori All Blacks v Lions - Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
20 June: Chiefs v Lions - Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
24 June: All Blacks v Lions -  Eden Park, Auckland 
27 June: Hurricanes v Lions - Westpac Stadium, Wellington
1 July:    All Blacks v Lions - Westpac Stadium, Wellington
8 July:    All Blacks v Lions - Eden Park, Auckland

"It came completely out of the blue. It's a huge honour, because to see what it means to people over here. I'm over the moon about it.

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"I just can't wait to get stuck in now."

Payne said it probably wouldn't be till he sat down with partner Christina that night that he would be able to take it all in. He had had no inkling of his inclusion - hadn't heard from any of the coaches - and found out like most others, watching on Sky in the UK, with his Ulster team-mates setting up TVs in a room to watch the broadcast in their lunch break at training.


After his name came up Payne said there were pats on the back from team-mates, some photos and the like for Ulster, then it was simply just a case of getting on with the day.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet... it feels a bit strange," he said.

"I'm still walking on cloud nine."

Payne wasn't even sure when the Lions assemble as a group, or what position he will be asked to play, though Gatland noted it would be the midfield where he will be preferred.

"We've picked him as a centre at this stage, but we know he can play at fullback, and on the wing as well," Gatland said. "The last few years he's really been one of the key players for Ireland, whether it's been at 13 or at 15, and been a big part of their success in recent seasons.

"He's played in some big matches where Ireland have been successful, and particularly against southern hemisphere teams. And when he hasn't been involved, and had a few injuries, they haven't quite had the success, his win record for Ireland has been pretty impressive."

Gatland said Payne had "matured as a player" and that he was "absolutely delighted" to link up with him again after all these years.

Not that Payne will let him forget what happened back at Waikato in a hurry.

"We've come a long way," Payne said.

"It was good of him [to select him in the Lions], I'll have to get him to buy me a beer."

For Payne, this is likely to be his one and only Lions tour, and for it to be to home shores in front of family and friends will be something to behold. Had it not been for Gatland's frankness a decade ago, and the will to take on new challenges - most notably the shift overseas - he may well have never played at the top level.

"That's very true," Payne said.

"It's been a good move. I've got no complaints, that's for sure.

"It will be good to get back down to New Zealand, obviously looking forward to the challenge, it's faster games of rugby there, and they're the best in the world. Just looking forward to getting down there and getting involved and getting stuck in, and seeing if we can get us a good result."

 - Stuff


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