The full-back was one of the heroes at Newlands last weekend as Ireland won in South Africa for the first time, succeeding against the odds to win the series opener 26-20 despite losing flanker CJ Stander to a red card 23 minutes in.
The Irish team management seem unlikely to appeal Stander’s one-match suspension, delivered on Monday night after a lengthy disciplinary hearing drawn out over 11.5 hours across two days which denied head coach Joe Schmidt the opportunity to properly involve the Munsterman in his preparations for this Saturday’s second Test.
So Ireland look set to plough on without Stander as they seek a first series victory in South Africa. To do that, though, will require Ireland’s performance levels to rise to another level.
“We need to improve massively not only physically, we’re going to have to go to a darker place again mentally,” Payne said. “We’ve identified areas that we can improve on and it’s both mental and physical, so if we can do that and raise our game then hopefully we can meet the level the Boks will be at because I guarantee you they’ll be a lot better as well.”
Skills coach Richie Murphy praised Payne for a performance that saw him selected in his regular position for Ulster, Schmidt having used him as an outside centre in his first 14 Test appearances.
The full-back’s offload to Andrew Trimble was a crucial cog in the build-up to Conor Murray’s early second-half try and was one of four from Payne from a team total of seven, while defensively he initiated the last-ditch 80th minute tackle on JP Pietersen that prevented a potentially match-turning try.
“I thought he was excellent,” Murphy said. “He’s a really really clever rugby player and was great value at the weekend at full-back.”
Murphy reported a clean bill of health from the weekend’s play and everyone in the squad trained during yesterday’s first full training session of the week in Johannesburg suburb of Sandton.
That included Stander, who is understood to have run as the opposition against the players most likely to face the Springboks this weekend. Murphy said Stander will be missed at Ellis Park.
“His work rate is really high and obviously he’s made of granite so he’s one of those guys that will get you on the front foot.
“So, yeah he’ll be missed but with that it gives opportunities to other guys.”