Jared Payne can relate to anxious wait facing Ulster’s Lions hopefuls

Four years ago Ulster defence coach Jared Payne was sitting in the team room at Kingspan Stadium when it was announced that Warren Gatland had chosen the centre for the British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 1:00 pm

Tomorrow at 11.45am, Gatland will name his 2021 Lions squad to take on World Champions South Africa this summer and with a few Ulster players as possibilities to make the plane, and Payne knows only too well the anxious wait in store.

“Personally it came completely out of the blue for me, it was a pretty awesome ride to tell you the truth,” he recalled.

“I was lucky enough to be among all the team when it came through so I got to celebrate it with them and it was pretty special.

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“Those guys are in a different position to what I was in during my time and they’ll all have their own ways of dealing with the excitement levels,” he added.

“I just hope that the players who have high hopes of making the team make it onto the tour.

“It’d be a huge boost for the club so fingers crossed for everyone who is there or thereabouts.”

Having exited Europe in the Challenge Cup semi-final, Ulster’s last chance of salvaging silverware from this season lies in the Rainbow Cup. However, there is ground to be made after losing the opening game in the competition to Connacht at home.

Ulster travel to Thomond Park to face Munster on Friday night (8.15pm).

“It’s a big challenge, you can’t go down there half-hearted, we spent yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday) trying to get everyone back up and excited again to embrace the challenge that Munster down at Thomond Park brings.

“If you don’t go down with the right mentality then it’s a tough place to go. How we start will be a big part of our approach and our mindset will be important this week. It’s going to be massive, it’s going to have to be on point.”

Payne has hinted Ulster may shuffle the deck for the trip to Limerick.

“People will still get opportunities, that’s part of rugby, isn’t it?”, he said.

“You have to find times to give guys opportunities, and there certainly will be some guys that will get them. Some guys will go again and we’ll see where we end up, it’s a competition that we want to win.

“We want to win rugby games, you play it to win, so regardless of who lines up, we will be going out to put in a good performance and get a win down there.”

Scrum half John Cooney and winger Robert Baloucoune are following Graduated Return to Play Protocols after both picked up concussions in the defeat at Leicester last week.