“Nobody thinks now about the 2014 Six Nations — except me, of course!” jokes Ulster and Ireland winger Andrew Trimble, at last confirming himself ready, willing and healthy to return to rugby after an injury-ravaged year.
Voted the Championship’s Player of the Year just 12 months ago the engaging 30-year-old is pointing out that his heroics in that winning season for his country won’t count when coach Joe Schmidt finally trims his 45-man World Cup squad on September 5..
Trimble was released briefly from the second week of a reportedly very tough pre-season training itinerary to help announce that communications giant BT is extending its current lucrative three-year sponsorship deal with Ulster Rugby for a further four years.
“I was relieved to be in the preliminary panel after being out for the longest time I’ve ever endured with an injury. The toe fracture was a serious one, but I knew exactly what I had to do to get back to the level of fitness I have now.
“I’m really excited by the next year, but I am very aware that I must hit the ground running when the four-game series of warm-up internationals arrive.”
Schmidt will finalise his tournament squad of 31 after the third of those matches, against Wales in Dublin in late August.
Trimble’s performances in the Six Nations triumph of last year finally seemed to copper-fasten his place in the side.
“I suppose I did think I’d shown what I could do at the highest level, and reaching 50 too caps gave me added confidence — for Ireland and for Ulster. But you can never take anything for granted, I never have, and the last year has been tough.
“But everybody has been so supportive, and Joe has always kept in touch and been encouraging. But there were two matches last year when it really hit home how much I missed the game. First was when Ireland completed back-to-back Six Nations successes, knowing what it’s like to be involved in that.
“Then Ulster beat Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium near the end of the season in the Pro 12 and looked set for a run to the title.
“Those are the games you miss, where you think you can and want to bring something to the table,” he says.
And how did he fill his time away from the endless rehab?
“Well Iain Henderson was in the same long-term injury boat and the two of us ‘trained’ as car mechanics trying to fix up two old Minis!
“And Tommy Bowe and I have been studying for post-graduate qualifications. And, of course, I was making babies,” he joked, clearly delighted by the arrival recently of son Jack.
For the moment Ulster’s ambitions will take a back seat as Trimble is clearly determined to bring his committed, all-action, match-winning pace back to the Irish side.
“There are eight quality wingers in the enlarged squad just now, all with talent to burn, all bringing the competition for places that Joe demands.
“Yeah, I want to be in the World Cup and hopefully I can take the opportunity to stake a claim when I get back on pitch.”
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