Misconceptions about Jared Payne are still doing the rounds. Tommy Bowe nudges his snout at the bait tossed over the side, has a wee nibble with serrated white teeth, before dorsal fin and tail disappear into the deep.
Thirty tries for Ireland now, into second behind Brian O’Driscoll, one past Denis Hickie, his reputation restored after Enda McNulty advised him to recall past exploits following his Twickenham nightmare.
The juicy bait was concerning matters at home. Matt Williams on TV3 to be precise. Bowe knows Williams, was coached by him briefly at Ulster before heading to the Ospreys in 2008.
The former Leinster, Ulster, Waratahs, Narbonne and Scotland coach is back in Dublin for the World Cup as an analyst and columnist. For whatever reason, the Australian, with Peter Stringer and Keith Wood in agreement, came to the conclusion that Payne is the problem currently stymieing Ireland’s offence.
Gordon D’Arcy disagrees. Brian O’Driscoll disagrees. And now Bowe firmly disagrees.
First let’s go back to what Williams said after Ireland breezed past Romania at Wembley on Sunday evening.
“I think we’ve got huge issues at outside centre,” he began.
“Darren Cave has put his case forward. I think it’s really tough to follow Brian, he’s one of the greatest players of all time, but I don’t think that Jared’s in good form. He’s making really poor decisions. He’s kicking the ball all the time and he’s kicking very badly. He’s not making breaks. He’s running across field.
“So, you can tick just about every box for doing things wrong as an outside centre in attack. I certainly do not believe that for us to go deep in the tournament that’s going to be good enough. We have to get some centres that are going to show the ability to go through teams.”
We being Ireland. Peter Stringer, surprisingly, agreed, and implied Keith Earls could move from wing to centre despite his outstanding form in the number 11 jersey.
“From my point of view, looking at it over the last few weeks in terms of Jared Payne, it’s frustrating,” said Stringer.
“In attacking positions kicking the ball away, inaccurate kicking, kicks going out on the full. Rather than holding onto the ball and being able to create something on the edges. Thirteen is where your main attacking play comes from and it’s just been frustrating to see that.”
Even Keith Wood concurred: “I don’t think that he’s fully delivered.”
The Williams comments were relayed to Bowe and he was asked if one could possibly lose one’s sense of reality sitting in a television studio.
“Weird,” Bowe began. “I was just chatting to one of the lads yesterday about how good it is to play alongside Jared.
“Listen, as a squad we know what a talented player he is. He has a lot of time on the ball and he makes it very easy for us wingers and people inside and outside of him to play with him. He is just so consistent, his communication is very good from a defensive point of view and he is probably one of the best passers of the ball in the squad.”
Criticism of Payne’s kicking isn’t really warranted either. Granted, he gifted Canada winger DTH van der Merwe a try last week, but putting the ball out on the full against Romania was worth the gamble as Craig Joubert had signalled advantage for an Ireland penalty.
“He has a bit of an X factor about him when he gets the opportunity to put it on. He has been a key part of the squad, the team, for the last year or two.”
When an RTÉ pundit previously took a swipe at Payne after the Wales defeat last March, Joe Schmidt felt the need to respond. Acerbically.
“I was incredibly disappointed with one of the so-called pundits slating one of our midfield last weekend when I thought he’d played a good game,” Schmidt said.
“I thought he actually opened them up. He made a couple of line breaks and was dead solid defensively.
“That sort of thing, when we’re trying to build confidence in players, filters back to players through family and friends, and I don’t think it helps. I don’t think it’s accurate, it’s one of those unfortunate by-products of having people for entertainment value, as opposed to people who are a little bit more in-depth in their analysis as the other two pundits were.”
Bowe, a genuinely good natured man, was unmoved by the whole furore.
“I think we are well used to it, to be honest, that’s why we don’t watch it anymore or read what is said,” he laughed
“Ach, I know Matt Williams. I was coached by him. I don’t think any of the players will be getting too upset by it.
“Maybe he is just playing the bad cop role on TV. I don’t know. As a squad, the players would be very confident in Jared’s ability. He is certainly one of the popular lads around the squad. I don’t think he’ll be getting too upset.”