Kiwi Payne being tipped to fill O'Driscoll's boots
Former Chiefs, Blues and Crusaders utility Jared Payne is being tipped to fill the biggest boots in Irish rugby.
The 28-year-old New Zealander is a strong contender to replace Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll in the green No 13 jersey.
Payne, who joined the Irish club scene with Ulster in 2011, qualifies to play for their national side in November.
Payne's name has been featuring heavily in the Irish media who have looked at the midfield options heading into next year's World Cup.
Joe Schmidt, the Kiwi coach who led Ireland to the Six Nations title in his first season in charge, admitted Payne "would definitely be in the frame" to take over from O'Driscoll who retired from test rugby last weekend after 141 appearances for Ireland and the British & Irish Lions.
"He's a class player, an experienced player and he has a natural intuition on the field," Schmidt said of Payne, who has been a standout performer for Ulster.
"He's a very good decision-maker on the field, he tends to be able to avoid the first tackle or beat the first tackle.
"He's a little bit flexible in where he plays on the field, he's played on the edge or at full-back."
Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw, Darren Cave and Brendan Macken are the Irish-born contenders with Schmidt admitting he has been casting a long-term eye over the centre's role since he took the job, realising O'Driscoll's time was coming to an end.
Payne says he's trying to avoid the hype but admits whoever inherits the jersey faces massive pressures.
"It's a bit scary thinking about it like that. O'Driscoll is maybe the best 13 ever, he's certainly up there anyway, but it's something that would be a massive honour and something I would love," Payne told the Belfast Telegraph.
Even if he doesn't specialise at 13 where he has played a lot lately for Mark Anscombe's Ultser team, Payne looms as a real World Cup contender for Ireland with his ability to play anywhere in the back three.
Payne's qualification for Ireland falls well, making him available for the November tests against the southern touring sides.
He would then have a full Six Nations campaign ahead of next year's World Cup which is being hosted by England.
Payne, a Waikato and Northland player, started his Super Rugby career with the Chiefs in 2007, making three appearances before playing 22 games for the Crusaders and a season with the Blues in 2011 before shifting north.
Payne is also a former New Zealand under-21 and national sevens player.
He signed a new contract with Ulster last year through to 2016.