Ireland centre Jared Payne wants to take his injury frustration out on Zebre as Ulster travel to Italy in the hope of gaining a five-pointer on Saturday.
At present, Les Kiss’s side lie fifth in the Pro12 so Payne acknowledges points are vital, but he is also just glad to get back into the action with his club after a series of injuries since the World Cup.
“It’s been a pretty crap season, to be honest, in regard to injuries. But I don’t hide behind that. However, my body is the best it has been since the World Cup, and I’ve more or less got over the dead leg which I received against Scotland in the Six Nations. A few more weeks under my belt then I can start to really perform.” said Payne,
With Louis Ludik unlikely to feature due to injury, Payne will again wear the No.15 jersey and is pleased with the quality around him in Ulster’s back-line.
“It’s great to be part of an exciting three-quarter line who are creating a few chances, and the more time we spend on the paddock, the better we will be on the pitch. So it’s an exciting place to be at the moment.
“We used the break well and it also allows a few boys to get over a few bumps and bruises, so it was pretty good for us.
“Every one of our games now is a must-win one. We are in a tough position and we have to make sure to front up each week from now on,” said Payne, who knows all too well that a bonus-point win is also a must if they want a chance to finish in the top four.
“They have a lot of internationals, good, talented players, including an all-Italian back-line. So we will show them respect, but we have to put in a decent performance against them.
“Realistically, a bonus-point win is essential for us. We are under no illusions about our position, so we have to go over there and chase for that bonus point. It’s tough, but it is what it is. We just have to be very clinical, as we are not going to get too many chances.
“They are a dangerous team, a team who play heads-up rugby. They have a lot of talented runners and they are a pretty decent defensive team, with Gonzalo Garcia and Leonardo Sato two very fine tacklers. So all in all, they have some pretty impressive players, so we have to be on our toes, particularly from open play. If it is a tight game, we are going to have to shut down the kicking game of Kelly Haimona, who will be directing the ship for them.
“Yes, playing for Ireland we closed them down in the Six Nations, but this game will be completely different. There were a few things I learned which I have passed on to the boys. But they showed in the first half against Glasgow how potent they can be, and we can’t take them for granted.
“We’ve had it tough over there before. Maybe we didn’t show them enough respect. It could be our mental attitude. We’ve talked about that quite a bit, and as we’ve put a fair bit of preparation in this week, so hopefully it’ll bode well for us.”
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