Jared Payne’s praise for fresh Ulster tests
Ulster will put their perfect record at the start of the season on the line as the Emirate Lions make their first ever trip to Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
Ulster have won all three games in the United Rugby Championship to sit second in the table on points different from Irish rivals Munster.
The Lions are 11th, having won one of their three games in the new competition.
Ulster defence coach Jared Payne believes the inclusion of the South African teams will strengthen the league.
“It’s new having a South African team over here, we’ll face different ones and they all bring their own individual flair to the game, it’s exciting for us,” said Payne. “They’re going to be great for the league, they bring a different style.
“When we go down there, it’s going to make the league even more interesting, it’s been good to welcome them here, but it’s a different world down there.
“A different challenge for a lot of people going to places like Loftus (Versfeld), that’s a special place when it’s bouncing, it’ll be great for us to experience that.
“It’s normally pretty hard over there (South Africa) - hard grounds, fast grounds, big athletes in the forwards and pretty quick athletes in the backs, you tend to lose your lungs a bit quicker than normal too.
“There’s definitely a change and I think we’ve seen that when we go down there and now we’re seeing a different style of rugby when they come up here, so it definitely presents different challenges.”
Payne expects the Lions, who have World Cup winner Jannie Du Plessis in their pack, to be very physical.
“I think they’re big men, the African boys, they love the contact,” he said. “First and foremost you’ve got to get the attitude and mentality right around the contact.
“You’ve got to not give them anything, so you start there and then give yourself a chance to look after the guys out wide.
“The main focus is on that initial front-up physicality, not give them the momentum and the space that they like because, as you’ve seen when they get that, they’ve got some dangerous outside backs.
“They’re fast boys, it’s a concerted effort to keep them quiet.”
Ulster’s injury crisis has eased slightly as Ireland internationals Eric O’Sullivan, Kieran Treadwell and Robert Baloucoune are available for selection this week.
“You feel for the boys that are injured,” he said. “They play the game to play the game, they don’t play it to be injured.
“It’s class to get them back out on to the pitch and get them running around and bringing their own excitement.
“Getting them out of the gym is great to see.
“It gives everyone a bit of a lift and it’s nice for the coach to have a few more guys to pick from, definitely.”
The Kiwi believes Ulster’s start to the season has been down to the hard work done in the build-up to matches.
“The training off the pitch has been the most pleasing thing,” he said. “A lot of guys are stepping up to leadership roles in terms of how they shape where we need to go in the week.
“The results have been great, but I love to see guys take ownership of the week and drive themselves and those around them.
“It’s been awesome to see.”