Ireland and British & Irish Lions utility back Jared Payne insists it’s whether or not he is accepted by his Lions teammates that counts as he prepares for the tour of his native New Zealand.
Payne qualified to play for Ireland due to World Rugby’s three-year residency rule and played his first game in November 2014. Since then the former New Zealand under 21 international has played 20 times for Ireland, including in the victory over his county of birth in Chiacgo last Autumn.
Now Payne is set to add British & Irish Lions selection to his honours, which has been questioned in some quarters.
“I’ve always said everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Payne told New Zealand media.
“I’m more about the guys you play with, if they all accept you. That’s what counts. In my time with Ireland and hopefully the Lions, no one has brought it up.
“There’s no skin off my back. I’m more than happy with the way the guys treat me and look on you as a local. I think I’ve been well and truly converted to an Irishman.
“This is the longest I’ve ever been in one place in Belfast, my fiancee is from Belfast, my nine month baby boy was born over here, I’ve got a house and a dog and the whole nine yards. I can’t see myself going too far in the future.”
From 2020, World Rugby’s eligibility process will stretch to five years, but the issue is sure to be revisited before the end of the tour with Jared Payne’s Irish teammate, South African-born CJ Stander experiencing the same questions as Payne.
But for now Payne is enjoying his international roller-coaster career with Ireland and being chosen by Warren Gatland for the Lions tour.
“If you’d told me that when I left I would have called you crazy and walked away from you,” said Payne whose standout moment of the 2005 Lions tour was All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter’s performance.
“What sticks out in my head is Dan Carter, how well he played in the second test. I think everyone in world rugby worldwide recognises that as the greatest performance by a player ever. To tell the truth that’s the only thing that sticks out. I didn’t go to any games and would have watched them at my local club.
“Obviously there was the unfortunate thing [spear tackle] with Brian [O’Driscoll]. The Lions wouldn’t look back too fondly on it [the 2005 tour], but there’s no impact or influence on us.”