He maybe a doubt for the weekend but Jared Payne outlined his value to Ireland against Romania with an intelligent display

By Mark Coughlan

Two games, two wins, 94 point scored and just two tries conceded. It’s a thankless task playing two perceived minnows of the game first up, but Ireland have done everything that they could, and managed to avoid any slip-ups.

More importantly, Joe Schmidt has been given some very welcome selection headaches after the 44-10 win over Romania, with all of the back three stepping up at the exact right (if slightly overdue) time, and several forwards putting in huge performances – Jordi Murphy, Devin Toner and Richardt Strauss in particular will be disappointed not to be in the shake-up for the Italy encounter now.

Romania provided a tiring opponent that allowed Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls to fill their boots in the wide channels, but it was the performance of Jared Payne at 13 that set Ireland’s platform time and time again, and started to let Irish fans think that they might finally be able to put the ghost of Brian to bed.

“I understand the 13 position quite well, particularly defensively,” said O’Driscoll (who else?) after the game. “You’ve got to be a good tackler but you’ve got to be able to read things in a split second. I think he’s doing a really good job and he’s becoming the glue to our really effective half-back pairing.”

For the second game in a row, Payne led the Irish tackle count with ten successful hits – and considering he left the field after 57 minutes, that’s no mean feat. Take away the moments of BOD magic, and the similarities between the two are clear. Like a fourth back rower, Payne is happy to do the dirty work without the plaudits. We’ve taken a closer look at a few passages of play to highlight just how much he contributes to this Irish side…

EARLY IMPACT

With just over two minutes on the clock, Payne collects the ball for the third time in the game. This time, he goes past two tackles after a switch with Tommy Bowe, then after getting caught by the third man, he gets the ball away to Donncha Ryan to keep the move going

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…and is then straight back onto his feet to lead the clearout.

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It’s early in the game, but considering Ireland have had the ball for almost three minutes, it’s admirable early commitment from the centre, particularly the effort he shows to keep Adrian Apostol away from the ball.

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MIXING IT UP

Here, he reacts to an offside rib-tickler by taking his frustrations out on Romania with two huge tackles and ruck clear-outs in the space of 60 seconds. Two minutes later, a kick goes long into Romanian territory, and Payne – along with Bowe again – leads the chase…

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…before making the tackle and leaping back to his feet to force Romania into a poor clearing kick…

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As a result, Ireland remain in the strike zone, and 60 seconds later, we see the clever side of Payne’s rugby brain come into play, as he spots that Ireland are outnumbered on his side of the field, so switches the play with Chris Henry.

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Three passes later, Zebo misses the ball to Earls, who is in space because of the switch of play. As with anything in rugby, the simplest tries are founded on moments of brilliance and hard work.

DOING BOD’S WORK

If his hard running, hard tackling and clever hands weren’t enough, the feather in O’Driscoll’s hat was always his ability to get low and turn the ball over like a good backrow forward. Well, 47 minutes into the game, Romania were camped on Ireland’s line for ten phases before the green army stole the ball and broke out. A clever grubber turned the Romanian back three

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…and Payne hunts down Catalin Fercu and tackles him

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then leaps to his feet and turns the ball over, presenting it to Eoin Reddan to get Ireland back on the front foot

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After one more break, Joe Schmidt had seen enough, and with Ireland cruising to victory, Payne was removed. What’s that they say about protecting your best players for the big games? The plaudits might go to the men out wide, but Schmidt will have been delighted with the hard work and results of his new man in the number 13 shirt. With Italy and France on the horizon, a bit of grunt in the midfield – especially when Robbie Henshaw is back alongside Payne – could go a long way to keeping the Irish moving in the right direction.