The New Zealand-born Ulster player became naturalised earlier this year and attended his second team camp in Kildare on Sunday and Monday of this week and Rob Kearney, for one, has been impressed by the new boy’s abilities.
“He’s a really nice fella, very skilful,” said Kearney at the launch of Ireland’s new jersey with Canterbury who reclaim the kit after the IRFU’s five-year association with Puma.
“He looks as if he has a lot of time on the ball. The one thing that strikes me about him is he is very complete. There doesn’t seem to be any part of his game that is drastically poorer than another. That’s the biggest compliment I could pay him, he doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses.”
Kearney would probably prefer for Payne to be pointed towards centre given his long-term use as a full-back by Ulster but the former Blues player’s availability and obvious talents will surely be utilised at some point at 13 by Schmidt this season.
The November internationals, against South Africa, Georgia and Australia will likely see Payne make his debut in green – or the new away white jersey – and Kearney is aiming for a return of no less than three wins from the month’s exertions.
Ireland almost claimed an historic victory against the All Blacks last November but the earlier defeat to Australia was the one referenced by Paul O’Connell yesterday with the captain admitting that the Wallabies had physically beaten up their hosts.
“Yeah,” said Kearney who also revealed that talks with the IRFU to extend his existing contract beyond next summer will begin in the coming weeks. “And whatever physicality Australia brought, South Africa are going to bring double.
“South Africa have won so many games over the last few years just by being more physical. Paulie spoke about it in the huddle after the session [yesterday]. That’s going to be the winning and losing of the game. We have to be massively switched on.”
Kearney and the rest of the Leinster contingent reported in for duty on the back of Friday night’s momentous defeat to Connacht at the Sportsground and he admitted that it made for more difficult handshakes and hellos.
The defeat was Leinster’s second in their opening three PRO12 games and adds an unexpected spoon of pressure onto their plates at this early juncture even if they have been here before, most notably during Schmidt’s first season with the province.
Kearney spoke yesterday of being encouraged with where Leinster are at at this juncture, claiming they have moved on “a little gear” and it was an assessment that gained credence from a notably unfiltered analysis of last season’s efforts.
“It took us a long time to fulfil our potential,” he said. “If you take away that Northampton away game [in the Heineken Cup third round] we had an ordinary enough season and then we got to the PRO12 final. Glasgow were the best team in the league and we played really well and put them to the sword on a day that mattered.
“Just from coming back into pre-season the standard of the training, the clarity that we now have around our defence which changed a lot last year … guys understand it a little bit more and we are starting to look a little bit sharper in attack at times. Yeah, I’m confident we will get a fair few points over the next few weeks.”