Ulster and Ireland's Jared Payne has hit back at claims made in Neil Francis' recent column in the Sunday Independent. Francis was writing in support of World Rugby's recent decision to raise the term necessary for a player to qualify under rugby's residency rule from three years to five. As part of his argument, Francis wrote extensively about two overseas players who have qualified for Ireland in recent years: CJ Stander and Jared Payne.
Of Payne and Stander, Francis wrote:
The issue is that they are not Irish. 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...the green shirt is not for sale. Only Irish people should represent Ireland in our sport, no matter how good a foreign alternative is.
Ahead of the Irish and British Lions tour to his homeland, Payne has been speaking to Radio New Zealand and he rejected Francis' claims when they were put to him:
I'm more about it's the guys that you play with. If they all accept you and they're happy with you, then that's what counts.
That's always been the case for me. It's no skin off my back.
Everyone's entitled to their own opinion and can voice them, but I'm more than happy with how the guys treat me and they look on me as a local.
Payne happily accepted the "converted" Irishman tag:
It's the longest I've ever been in one place, in Belfast, and my fiancée, she's from Belfast and we've got a nine-month old baby boy that was born over here.
We've got a house and a dog and the whole nine yards really, so I'm well and truly and converted and can't see myself going too far in the near future.