Jared Payne up for a battle with pal Robbie Henshaw

Ireland’s midfield duo Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw will put their growing playing relationship on hold when Ulster face Connacht in what should be a close Pro12 clash in Galway on Saturday.

Kiwi-born Payne was more or less the silent partner as Henshaw took most of the plaudits as Ireland retained the Six Nations Championship title. But it was widely acknowledged that it was the Kiwi-born Payne’s experience and nous that helped the young zealot grow in stature.

Now Payne will be out to ‘protect’ himself against the big giant centre from out west.

“I spent a lot of time with him and I have been texting him this week,” said Payne, who scored his first try in Ireland colours in the victory over Scotland.

“It will be interesting to play against him, we know a bit about each other’s game and it will be interesting to see how that translates when we play against each other.

“It will be good and hopefully we’ll have a few laughs out there. Hopefully he won’t beat me up too much,” smiled Payne, who is glad to get back to normal league duties with Ulster.

“It’s good to be back and be back in the system. But it was good to win the competition and it was a pretty unreal ride to win the Six Nations. It’s slowly sinking in.

“The medal is tucked away in a drawer. But you can’t look back at that now as I have pretty important things to do here.”

“It was a pretty strange day, we had heard just before the game that we needed 21 points and we won and did that. Then to sit around and watch the English game, it was end to end stuff with 90-odd points in the game. It was unbelievable and the emotions were all over the place and I was pretty shot by the end of the night but it was good just to get over the line.

“We sat and watched the game in the after match and the Scottish boys were very good they sort of paused the whole after-match thing, so we could watch the game then we went out and did the presentation.

“It was unbelievable the amount of fans that had stayed behind and it was a big party out there and we have to thank Scottish Rugby for letting us do that,” said Payne who played down the significance of his first international try.

“It’s nice to score a try. Everyone seems to make a pretty big deal of it but I’m just happy to score a try and contribute to the team’s performance. But like this Saturday, I’d rather not score a try and us win.”

Meanwhile, Ulster have raided doomed London Welsh for two Irish-qualified players. They have signed lock Peter Browne and scrum-half Paul Rowley.

Rowley, 26, who was born in Limerick, began his career at the Munster Academy and played for the province’s U19 and U20 sides before moving to Plymouth Albion before his move to London Welsh at the start of last season.

Lock Browne, 27, is Irish-qualified as his father is Irish.

Ulster team manager Bryn Cunningham said: “Pete’s pedigree and age make him the perfect person to come into an environment that will encourage him to achieve his potential and result in him pushing hard for a starting berth as a six or second-row.

“After stints with Newcastle and Harlequins, this season with London Welsh has been a difficult time.

“However, he has still managed to put in some excellent performances, particularly at 6.

“With a stature of 6’7”, it is his athleticism and ball carrying that really stand out, allied to being an excellent line out option.

“He comes with a great attitude as somebody confident and extremely professional in his approach to the game.”

“Having gone through all the representative age grade systems at Munster and Ireland, Paul’s pathway was blocked by a number of outstanding Munster scrum-halves.

“A few years in the English Championship honed his game getting regular first team rugby.

“This past season with London Welsh has not been what he hoped for but he now looks forward to a new challenge where we will look to maximise his undoubted ability.

“He possesses an all round game with control being at the forefront of his skill set.

“He will aim to put pressure on Paul Marshall and provide a slightly different option with his left-footed kicking from behind the pack.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox