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16th May 2017

There’s something so sad about the latest bullshit Jared Payne has to deal with

Is this really still a thing?

Patrick McCarry

“My fiancée, she’s from Belfast and we’ve got a nine-month old baby boy that was born over here. We’ve got a house and a dog and the whole nine yard.”

While it sounds like Jared Payne is truly happy and settled in Belfast, it’s an awful pain to hear that he has been forced to defend himself again.

Payne arrived in Northern Ireland at the age of 25 and was set on making a success of his time with Ulster Rugby. Highly rated in Super Rugby circles, he was considered just a step below Test standard by the All Blacks.

There was an outside chance that that he could line out for Ireland – he was brought over as a project player – but he would be 29 by the time he qualified for that. He would have to prove damn good to get in ahead of the best Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster had to offer.

Then, two months into his Ulster career, he snapped his Achilles’ tendon and was ruled out for the rest of the season. It was a horrible break for Payne but he did not grumble and set about getting back better and stronger than ever. He felt it was the least he owed to Ulster after they had taken a chance on him.

Payne has paid Ulster back 10 times over since recovering from that season-ender. At fullback or outside centre, he has been absolutely superb for the past five seasons and he has stepped up to international level seamlessly. He is not as adventurous in attack for Ireland but that is mainly because he is their defensive leader and Joe Schmidt’s eyes, ears and mouth on the field.

This August will mark six years since Payne has been in Ireland and he has been welcomed by so many in his adopted city. Fiancée, baby, house, dog, favourite coffee shop, knowledge of all the surf spots less than 90 minutes’ drive away. He’s as local as he’ll ever be.

And yet, just because Payne has excelled for Ireland – literally pissed blood for Ireland – and got called up to the British & Irish Lions, he is told by columnists and Twitter trolls that he is not Irish.

What a welcoming, integrated society we are.

World Rugby has moved to extend the residency rule from 36 to 60 months so any player wishing to represent a country other than their own, without a maternal or paternal link, will have to pitch in for five years now.

It can’t be easy for the likes of Scott Williams, James Haskell and Garry Ringrose to have missed out on the Lions because someone like Payne or CJ Stander has got the nod. However, ask just about any player that plays and trains with those two men and they will tell you they have fully bought into this country and so many of its values.

Payne calls himself ‘a converted Irishman’ and who are we to argue. Anyone that comes to this country, invests themselves fully in it, works hard, engages with the wider community and contributes is entitled to call themselves Irish.

As a nation, we have travelled to the four corners and sought welcome, refuge, work and friendship within foreign borders. We have taken citizenship tests and new passports, proudly claiming a new nationality while retaining that unique Irish spirit.

Asked about Stander possibly keeping him out of the Ireland team, earlier this season, Leinster’s Jack Conan told us:

“Those lads come in and have been here for the right amount of time to get Irish qualified. 

“They are bringing a different standard. If they are bringing it and upping that standard then everyone else has to react to that and be better. That, then, increases the talent around them and makes everyone up their level.”

Well said by Conan but still the drum is beaten by the disgruntled and the ones in possession of soap-boxes.

“People are entitled to the opinions,” Payne told Kiwi journalists in a Monday evening conference call and he is a bigger man for it.

He has nothing to prove even to those that keep insisting he’ll never be one of us.

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