Rugby: Payne exits New Zealand for Irish club

By Wynne Gray

The in-form Jared Payne is yet another top player who is going overseas. Photo / Getty Images
The in-form Jared Payne is yet another top player who is going overseas. Photo / Getty Images

Blues centre Jared Payne is joining the rugby exodus, heading to the Irish club Ulster on a three-year deal once his duties are finished this season in New Zealand.

Payne confirmed his departure as the Blues assembled in Whangarei for tonight's Super 15 clash against the Cheetahs.

Some local anticipation about this game may be tainted by Payne's revelation that this season will be his last captaining those in the Northland uniform.

His departure should raise more red flags for the New Zealand Rugby Union after test wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and prop John Afoa revealed they are also heading away after this year.

Payne has yet to achieve the international status of the other two, but he wants to play overseas while he is in prime form and condition.

He has been in both for the Blues this season as arguably the most consistent New Zealand centre in the Super 15.

"Making these decisions in the middle of Super rugby is not easy, but that's the way it works in this game," Payne said.

"I'm really enjoying my rugby and being part of the Blues. However, I also have ambitions to play rugby overseas while I am young and fit."

Payne is in high-class competition with senior New Zealand centres Conrad Smith, Richard Kahui and Robbie Fruean, but he could be used if there are form slumps or injury.

Payne, 26, is a national rep who can play centre, wing or fullback and has been a rising talent for a few years. However, his decision to cut and run for rewards overseas should be a warning about Super 15 expansion ideas.

There will be others following Payne, Afoa and Sivivatu, those who feel they have done their dash, those governed by World Cup cycles or those who make social and financial decisions. That dilution of talent will have an impact on the next Super 15 which will be even longer than this year's series.

"Jared has been impressive for the Blues this year," coach Pat Lam said. "It's a real shame Jared won't be with the team in 2012 but that's the nature of professional rugby and the offshore demand for players of his calibre."

The Blues start tonight as warm favourites after three wins and a draw in their last four games, while the Cheetahs have just one series victory.

The danger for the Blues is letting their guard drop.

This is the start of three crucial "home" matches for the Blues against the Cheetahs, Waratahs and Rebels - a section interrupted by a bye.

Victory will set them up for a strong run in the second half of the competition.

- NZ Herald

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