The Irish International is to become Ulster's new defence coach

Ireland and Ulster centre Jared Payne has been forced into retirement at the age of 32, after almost a year out with a head injury.

The 20-times Irish International has been unable to recover from a concussion suffered on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand last summer, with his final game coming against the Chiefs on that tour, where he scored a try in a 34-6 victory.

The New Zealand native has dabbled in coaching during his time sidelined this season, and that experience will see him remain at Ulster, linking up with new head coach Dan McFarland as defence coach. In a statement released this morning, Payne says he's looking forward to beginning the second chapter of his career in Belfast.

"It's been a good ride but unfortunately every good thing has to come to an end. Playing rugby has taken me to places I never thought I'd see and allowed me meet people I never thought I'd meet. 

"Firstly, I'd like to thank my parents for all their help in my younger years and my brother Josh for being a live tackle bag! Thanks also to the coaches and team mates throughout the years that have made living this dream possible, and to the staff, volunteers and fans that make game days so special. The support that I've received from my partner Chrissie and sons Jake and Tyler, particularly over the past 12 months, has been incredible.

"I would like to thank all of the medical professionals who have supported me since my injury occurred back in June last year. I'm extremely grateful for your considerable care and attention.

"While I will undoubtedly miss the buzz of running out with mates every weekend, I have to listen to the medical advice and unfortunately give up the dream. However, I've surprised myself how much I have enjoyed coaching and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this role on a permanent basis. 

"Finally, I'd like to thank the management here at Ulster for giving me the opportunity to contribute in this way and I look forward to trying to repay the faith shown in me."

Payne joined Ulster in 2011, going on to play 78 times for the province, with his form earning him an Irish call-up upon qualifying on the residence rule in 2014. He made his debut in the 2014 against the Springboks, forming a brick-wall centre partnership with Robbie Henshaw.

It was the first of 20 appearances in the green shirt, the last of which came in the 2017 Six Nations win against England at the Aviva Stadium.

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifore has also paid tribute to Payne's playing career, adding that he will assist Ireland;s coaching team on the upcoming tour to Australia.

"It is unfortunate that Jared's playing career has been cut short as he was such a positive influence for both Ulster and Ireland. We are delighted that he has joined Ulster's coaching group as he has the rugby intellect to thrive as a coach and has illustrated his credentials and potential with Ulster over the past few months. 

"As an investment in his development Jared will spend some time with the Ireland set-up on the summer tour to Australia working with the national coaches."