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Kiwi-born Payne returns to stomping ground

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 5/06/2017 Angelo Risso

The naturalised Irishman has been named at centre for the Lions' first clash against Super Rugby opposition, forming an all-Ireland midfield with Robbie Henshaw. © David Rogers/Getty Images The naturalised Irishman has been named at centre for the Lions' first clash against Super Rugby opposition, forming an all-Ireland midfield with Robbie Henshaw. In another universe, Jared Payne may well have run out to a packed Eden Park on Wednesday as a Blues player - or, in two weeks, as an All Black.

Instead, he'll take to the Auckland fortress as a British and Irish Lion.

The naturalised Irishman has been named at centre for the Lions' first clash against Super Rugby opposition, forming an all-Ireland midfield with Robbie Henshaw.

It won't be the first time the 31-year-old, Tauranga-born Payne plays at Eden Park, having spent a year with the Blues in 2011 after stints at the Crusaders and Chiefs.

He then went on to join Ulster in late 2011 and the rest is history, as he decided to make himself eligible for Ireland and has now played play 20 Tests for them.

Nevertheless, he didn't feel like an enemy on Kiwi soil.

"I haven't thought too much about it, my mates still give me a bit of gyp and that's all part of it," Payne told reporters on Monday.

"It's just another game, it's good to be back but you've just got to approach it as another game and not get too caught up in it - if there's 40,000 there at Eden Park it'll be rocking and there'll be plenty of noise, pretty cool to play in front of."

Payne endured a tough northern season after appearing in both Ireland matches against the All Blacks before rupturing a kidney against Australia in late November.

The injury kept him off the field for almost three months, until returning in time for Ireland's bruising 13-9 win over England, in the Six Nations, in March.

He then suffered a calf strain that kept him out of the Lions' tour-opening win over the provincial Barbarians in Whangarei, his former stomping ground.

Payne was keen to make up for lost time against his old Blues mates, including the likes of Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua and the omitted Rene Ranger.

"They're exciting, got power right across the field and some very skilful players (that) play an expansive brand of rugby, so it'll be a pretty tough game," Payne said.

"If we give those boys too much space, they're going to cause some headaches.

"They've got nothing to lose and all the pressure is on us."

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