Olding making presence felt after earning Ireland call
MAYBE Joe Schmidt made up his mind when Stuart Olding belatedly assumed his place in an Ulster back-line that produced arguably the try of last weekend's European Champions Cup.
Ulster had been putrid for a good half hour or more; when Olding arrived, they were suddenly purring.
Their first-phase strike from what was a hitherto malfunctioning lineout at once demonstrated the best facets of the team, qualities they must produce to dispatch Toulon, but also the effectiveness of the soft-handed, gliding presence of Olding in the midfield.
Stuart McCloskey had taken the Pro12 by storm and earned Tommy Bowe's backing for Ireland duty; fatefully, his departure coincided with Ulster's upswing.
Days later, despite the lively protestations of his colleague Tommy Bowe, McCloskey didn't make the cut and Olding, as he did the last time he was fit for purpose 14 months ago, had his name inked on the 37-man panel; possibly to some amazement on his behalf.
"No matter who you are," Olding said just hours before the IRFU's surprise early squad announcement, "you need to nail down starts at your club because otherwise there'll be no chance of getting into an Irish team. So that's the focus. I just want to take the opportunities that I'm given."
He has been down some dark roads since debuting in North America two summers ago; he had barely opened his European campaign last term when he felt an innocuous "pop" in his leg during an "A" game.
The game was in trash time; soon, his season would be.
"It was a really dark time for me, it wasn't a nice play to be," he recalls. "There was nobody near me, then my leg goes. Time is nearly up.
"I thought I'd be out for a short while, you know? I came out of the original scans and stuff walking around without a bother. I'm thinking I'll be back in a few weeks. But soon I realised it was a long time after a while. Even though I was walking around for ages and it seemed okay, the medics told me it wasn't an injury to rush.
"I had to put faith in the medics. Now I feel I'm in a better place than before. I feel I'm a better player than before."
The Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt, who spoke highly of him during the week, would seem to agree, after originally capping him two summers ago.
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