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The 18-year-old Southland Boys’ High School hooker was named in the 53-strong national secondary schools rugby squad last week.
He was aware he was in the selector’s thinking, but the confirmation last week was music to Payne’s ears.
"It’s what I’ve been training for this year, just trying to do the best I can to make [the squad]," he said.
Payne progressed through the Southland age-group ranks, from the under-65kg level up to under-18.
But at the end of last season, he was aware he needed to make changes to advance his game further.
"I’ve been working on my work-rate and my fitness, that’s what let me down last year."
The 53 players selected will attend a three-day camp in Palmerston North this weekend.
Following the camp the New Zealand Schools and New Zealand Barbarians schools teams will be named.
The top team will fly to Brisbane to play games against Tonga and Australia.
The New Zealand Barbarians team will head to Wellington, where it will take on New Zealand Maori under-19 and Fiji.
The Southland hooker was one of two players from the Highlanders region selected, the other neing James Arscott, of Otago Boys’ High School.
Payne has not yet sorted what he would do next year in terms of work or study, but has committed to staying in Southland and trying to advance his rugby prospects.His father Greg played for the Blues club in Southland, and Payne said he would follow in his footsteps and join the south Invercargill club.
Payne’s Southland Boys’ first XV coach Peter Skelt was delighted for the young hooker.
"He has worked hard this year. He is a physical player, he carries the ball strongly, and he’s aggressive in defence.
"He’s also a good lineout thrower — he can hit the back, which obviously helps a lot."
While Payne’s selection was a nice moment for the Invercargill school, Skelt conceded he was disappointed another player — flanker Sean Withy — had missed selection.
Skelt had previously labelled Withy as one of the best players he had seen come through the Southland Boys’ system during his three decades of involvement.
"This selection won’t define him as a rugby player. Missing out on this team won’t stop him ending up where he does with his rugby."
- Logan Savory