Jared Payne: Schmidt will be eager to finish on a high

Hooker Rob Herring returns to the Ulster squad for Saturday's clash with Cardiff Blues

Joe Schmidt with Ulster coach Jared Payne at Carton House. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The hottest topic in Irish rugby was, unsurprisingly, still high on the agenda as Ulster assistant coach Jared Payne and hooker Rob Herring gave their own slant on Joe Schmidt's long goodbye and Andy Farrell's ultimate succession to the top job.

Even though both Payne and Herring were at the Kingspan Stadium to primarily talk about Ulster’s Pro14 meeting with Cardiff Blues, on Saturday, there was no way the looming changes in the national coaching set-up after next autumn’s World Cup were being ignored.

Payne, capped 20-times for Ireland and a key part of Schmidt’s squad before being forced to retire in May 2018 due to a lingering head injury, is in a good position to comment having been coached by both Schmidt and Farrell.

Indeed, the Kiwi also worked under Farrell when the latter was organising the defence on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017, the last time Payne ever played as his head issues, through frequent headaches, began on that tour.


“He’ll [Schmidt] be pretty keen to finish on a high,” said the 33-year-old Kiwi with a nod to the Japan next autumn.

As to the possibility of Schmidt stepping down having won the Webb Ellis trophy, he added: “It would be a fairy tale, wouldn’t it?

“That would be some way to go. He would retire a happy man if he got that. Joe’s a great coach,” continued Payne who came straight onto the Ulster coaching ticket as defence coach after his retirement from playing.

“What he wants he gets that across and has an amazing eye for detail and keeps you honest as a player. And he’s a nice guy too. Put it all together and he’s pretty good. He is so intense and that got the best out of you.

“I’ve probably p***ed him off once or twice by being too relaxed with him,” he recalled from his playing days in green which began in November 2014 after qualifying to play for Ireland via residency.

As for Farrell, Payne could only praise him for his support both when the Kiwi was playing and now that he has taken on the task of being Ulster’s defence coach as they rebuild under head coach Dan McFarland.

Great coach

“Faz is a great coach as well,” he said. “He’s a bit different to Joe in some aspects, but he’ll have learnt a lot off him and he’s going to put his own slant on it. He’s a great guy, gets on with players, knows what he wants and gets his message across the same way as Joe.

“It will be interesting to see how he goes,” said Payne while revealing that he and Farrell chat about how things are shaping up over the Kiwi’s role at Ulster, the province he joined as a player in 2011.

Herring was also generous in his praise of both Schmidt and Farrell after just returning from Ireland camp where he got a solitary appearance off the bench in last Saturday’s win over the USA.

“Joe’s a massively talented coach. He gets what he wants from players and I’ve never seen anything like it before. For what he has contributed to Irish rugby, it’s incredible.”

Regarding Farrell, Herring said: “He’s got the boys defending at a new level and I’m sure he’s the right man for the job when Joe leaves.”

Herring is available to play for Ulster in Saturday’s clash with the Blues as the northern province bid to put last Friday’s poor showing at the Scarlets behind them prior to playing Wayne Pivac’s squad again in the back-to-back Champions Cup games which follow this weekend.