RUGBY: Debutant Jared Payne a key man for British Lions hints Warren Gatland

Jared Payne
Jared Payne

New Zealand born Jared Payne will make his British and Irish Lions bow against his former team-mates in Auckland on Wednesday.

Warren Gatland is keen to draw on the experience the Ireland and Ulster centre has to offer when the Lions come up against the Blues at Eden Park, Auckland in the second game of their tour.

Payne has recovered from a calf niggle which saw him withdrawn from the opening game against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, which the Lions spluttered to a 13-7 win.

The centre will play alongside fellow Irish midfielder, Robbie Henshaw, a well-established partnership which has proven successful for Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt.

Payne, who was capped at Under-21 level with the baby All Blacks, played for the Blues in 2011, before he joined Ulster.

He qualified to play for Ireland in 2014 and has gone on to make 20 appearances.

Payne said he was “buzzing” about finally making his Lions debut after the disappointment of having to miss out for the opener.

“I am looking forward to facing some old mates, but the friendships will be put to the side for the game.

“It will be great to finally pull on the Lions jersey and hopefully it will go well. Good to be playing with Robbie (Henshaw) as well.”

With Gatland looking for an improved performance from the Lions as they continue their build-up to the first Test against the All Blacks on June 24, he will see his fellow Kiwi as a key man in helping the side to a confidence-boosting win over the Blues.

Gatland said: “The thing for Jared is just getting on the pitch. He’s been struggling the last few months with injury, and he’s had this niggling calf strain. The fact he gets on the pitch is his biggest achievement.

“But given his experience, there’s that leadership and ability to express, not just his playing ability, but also a calmness to the rest of our squad about the fact he has been there and experienced playing on Eden Park, and for the opposition too.”