Jared Payne claims he's a 'converted Irishman' as his Lions selection cops unfriendly fire

British and Irish Lions back Jared Payne has declared he is a converted Irishman after his selection came under severe fire from a former Ireland international.

And the former New Zealand Super Rugby player even mentioned his dog when citing why he should be regarded as Irish through and through.

Neil Francis, a 36-test-lock, told his Irish Independent readers that he "profoundly and vehemently" disagrees with foreign-born players getting to play test rugby under the three-year residency rule.

Francis is fuming about Kiwi Payne and South African flanker CJ Stander's selection for Ireland and the Lions, and wants rugby to put the brakes on "tourists and nation-hoppers".

"Your heritage and the nationhood of this island cannot be bartered for just because the governing body of our sport did not move quickly enough to close off the completely inadequate 36-month residency rule," he wrote.

He even took a shot at Payne's selection by noting that Lions coach Warren Gatland had cut Payne when he was in charge at Waikato.

Payne - who played for the Crusaders, Chiefs and Blues - told New Zealand media that such criticism "comes with the territory".

"I've always said everyone is entitled to their own opinion. 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."

Francis launched a massive attack on the trend of foreign selection, and is disappointed the new five-year residency rule will only come in from 2021.

"Payne gets to play against his own countrymen with a red jersey on his back. In the meantime, Garry Ringrose, born and raised in Ireland and a product of the Irish schools and provincial system, is left behind," he said.

"Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien, born and raised in Ireland, managed to get on the plane but are behind in the queue for test places.

"When the careers of Payne and Stander are over they will likely head home to New Zealand and South Africa, and it just doesn't seem right that they will have a Lions or an Ireland jersey hanging up on their wall, thousands of miles away from Ireland."

"Their rugby integrity is undoubted. Nobody question their commitment. The issue is they are not Irish."

Meanwhile Payne said he was particularly looking forward to returning to Toll Stadium in Whangarei - he made his name in Northland after being unwanted by Gatland's Waikato.

The versatile back described his rugby success with Ireland, and Lions selection, as having "exceeded all my expectations and dreams".

"If you'd told me that when I left I would have called you crazy and walked away from you," he reckoned.

Payne said the Lions environment was "pretty intimidating". They had only just got into camp, and many players were still missing because of club duty. He had few strong memories of the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand.

"What sticks out in my head is Dan Carter, how well he played in the second test," Payne said.

"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 tour), but there's no impact or influence on us."

- NZ Herald

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