In spite of a traditional Ravenhill Friday night downpour at kick-off, Payne showed his pedigree as early as the first minute, collecting a greasy high ball from a Cardiff clearance and earning a quick penalty, spurned by Ian Humphreys from just inside the 10-metre line.
Humphreys atoned for the miss just moments later from a more central position well inside the Cardiff 22, and, as the teeming rain ceased as suddenly as it had begun, Ulster powered their way back into Blues territory with Payne again looking lively, and beating several men with ball in hand, before delivering a marginally forward pass to Craig Gilroy.
With Cardiff penalised once more on 16 minutes, this time for intentionally interfering with the ball as Paul Marshall extracted it from the scrum, Humphreys had the chance to double the lead but, again, dragged the kick wide. His dismal run continued four minutes later with a third miss - this time from just inside the Ulster half - and as the half progressed Ulster proved unable to convert their lion's share of possession into points.
A sublime high take and weaving run from Gilroy on the half-hour seemed to spur Ulster into a higher gear, however, and the same player was instrumental in the 32nd-minute try, cutting inside from his right-wing berth and carving up the Cardiff defence line until he was halted a handful of metres from the line. Darren Cave was on hand to pick up and travel the short distance to the try-line. Humphreys' conversion made the scoreline a deserved Ulster 10 Cardiff 0.
With Ulster now turning the screw, Cave was again in the right place three minutes later to culminate a swift cross-field movement orchestrated by the quick hands of Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence and Gilroy, with the centre sliding over to double his tally by the right-hand corner flag. Humphreys' conversion was neat, and sent his side in at the break 17 points to the good.
Half-Time Score Ulster 17 Cardiff 0
With Cave withdrawn at half-time due to a leg injury picked up at the close of the first period, D'Arcy came on to fill in at centre, but Ulster's momentum rolled on unabated. Their advantage was compacted on 55 minutes when Cardiff Number 8 Xavier Rush - already unpopular with the Ravenhill fans for reneging on his decision to join Ulster in the 2010/11 close season - was sinbinned for a dangerously high tackle around the neck of fan favourite Pedrie Wannenburg.
Ulster struggled to make their numerical superiority count, however, and indeed it was the Blues who applied the greater pressure during Rush's ten-minute exile, albeit without managing to open their account. This the Blues eventually succeeded in doing on 69 minutes courtesy of Ceri Sweeney's well-struck penalty, and with Humphreys clattered by a muscular tackle four minutes later, young Paddy Jackson came on to win his fourth cap at out-half.
Jackson was able to make his cameo appearance count as the Blues were penalised in overtime, which allowed the out-half to slot over his first-ever top-flight points from inside the 22 and confirm a comfortable Ulster victory. The home side even had time to chalk up a further two near misses before the final whistle, with both Payne and Wannenburg getting close to the line before being crowded out.
Ulster's 100% Rabo Direct Pro 12 record remains intact, then, and will next be put to the test on Sunday 25th September, with what promises to be a stern encounter against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Full-Time Score Ulster 20 Cardiff 3
(15 - 9) J Payne; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten; I Humphreys, P Marshall
(1 - 8) D Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, J Cronin; L Stevenson, D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, C Henry (c), R Diack
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, N McComb, M McComish, I Porter, P Jackson, A D'Arcy
(15 - 9) C Czekaj; T James, C Laulala, G Evans, A Cuthbert; C Sweeney, L Jones
(1 - 8) S Hobbs, R Thomas, S Andrews; M Paterson, P Tito (c); M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush
Replacements (16 - 23) R Williams, N Trevett, J Monck, J Down, T Young, R Rees, R Patchwell, D Hewitt
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Cardiff Blues Score Card|