Tough return for Payne to Eden Park fortress

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Lynn McConnell     06 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Facing him in the centres are two players with their eyes on All Blacks selection, Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala.

Williams, who has also had his frustrations with injuries this year, was looking to make an impact and Payne was well aware of his ability.

"He's a class player, he's got an array of off-loads, he's a big powerful boy and he's a very good decision maker," he said.

Cutting down the space available to him, preventing his 'big arms from getting free' and tackling him quickly would be crucial to limiting his impetus.

"It's easy talking about but actually doing it is pretty tough isn't it?" he said.

Payne, who missed the chance to play on his former home ground at Toll Stadium in the tour opener due to a tight calf, said he was looking forward to getting back on Eden Park where he spent a season with the Blues and to play against some old friends.

It had been 'gutting' to miss out in Whangarei but it had been good to catch up with friends up there.

"You just have to watch them [the Blues], they're exciting, they've got power right across the field. They've got some very skilful players and they play an expansive brand of rugby so it's going to be a pretty tough game," he said.

Paired with Irish team-mate Robbie Henshaw, he was hopeful they could pick up their combination quickly and put in a good performance.

"We know every game is going to be hard, teams are going to be gunning for us but we've just got to try and improve week on week, build our combinations and get better as the tour goes on," he said.

"We'll have to be on our toes, if we give those boys too much space they'll cause a lot of headaches, it is going to be a tough day at the office," he said.

Payne, who also played for the Crusaders before heading overseas, said he had been keeping 'a bit of an eye' on them and they had been scoring some impressive results. They were a good team and would also be tough.

The New Zealand Super Rugby franchises in general had nothing to lose when taking on the Lions and he would be letting his team-mates know that.

"All the pressure is on us; the Kiwi attitude is to give it a crack and really get stuck in. The bigger the opposition the more worked-up you get as a New Zealander, so I'll be telling them that.

"They'll take themselves to another level and really be gunning for us," he said.

Getting onto Eden Park would cap what he described as a 'roller coaster ride' of a season for him with injuries curtailing his appearances. But he was looking forward to running onto the field and getting back into the action.

"Obviously Eden Park is a fortress for New Zealand rugby. It's pretty obvious the mantra it holds. The Blues boys, once they get in front of a packed Eden Park are going to take it to another level because they don't get that too much in Auckland, do they? It's going to add a real buzz to them and it's something they'll get up for," he said.