Trimble targets the best of both worlds
As the Irish camp resumed training ahead of the next step to potential Grand Slam glory at PBC Cork yesterday, Andrew Trimble was enduring a torrid session in his Ulster training top at the province's Newforge base.
Rewind exactly 12 months and Trimble was firmly embedded in the Irish XV and preparing for a session in UCD with his international team-mates, leisurely shooting the breeze with the media and describing how he was literally surfing the crest of a wave.
Trimble told us he had spent the previous weekend surfing in Portrush as an antidote to the heightened pressures which had required him to slot in as Brian O'Driscoll's midfield partner following Gordon D'Arcy's prolonged injury absence.
A year on and Trimble's central role is a distant memory as he resigns himself to looking on from the outside as a settled Ireland zone in on an elusive championship and Grand Slam double.
"I don't know what the future holds," said Trimble yesterday, as his Ulster side prepare for this weekend's Magners League visit of Glasgow. "I'd love to get back into the picture again, that's for sure.
"Whenever you're there, it's really a case of not appreciating what you have until it's gone. It's something I really miss. I just need to trust myself that if an opportunity comes, I know I need to take it with both hands."
Trimble's slide down the pecking order began when he was forced to miss last summer's tour to Australia and New Zealand with a leg injury, and a subsequent hernia operation, combined with a series of associated knocks on resuming combat, forced him out of new Irish coach Declan Kidney's plans.
Ulster's miserable form hardly helped his rehabilitation and, although Matt Williams' side arrested the decline at the turn of the year, old failings returned against the Dragons two weeks ago to numb chances of a surprise recall, despite his involvement in the extended squad.
"Results like that against the Dragons make you wonder what it is exactly we have been doing over the past few months," said Trimble. "We seem to be taking a couple of steps forward, beating Munster and Harlequins so impressively, but then taking one step back.
"We're capable of playing good rugby, everyone in the squad knows that, but the performances have just not been consistently good enough given what we've done recently.
"We need to turn the corner again, we thought we had done so. We know the level we need to return to so hopefully we can do that. We had designs on a top-three place after beating Munster down there with a bonus. Now we're stuck in a dogfight with Connacht again. We didn't turn up against the Dragons. We missed tackles, slipped off tackles. Stupid stuff."
Trimble could not be exempt, missing crucial tackles and being easily intercepted for the final of Grant Tovey's gifted hat-trick. "I'll put my hand up," confesses the devout Christian. "I made at least half a dozen errors."
Trimble will, however, keep his head down as he seeks to fight his way back into the Irish set-up. He is greatly enamoured with the strides made by the now exiled Tommy Bowe, but he has no regrets about securing his Ulster tenure.
"I was nowhere near the side in the autumn but I feel like I'm a better player now. I just need to believe in myself. I'm very happy here. At the start of the year, even when we were losing, the team spirit was unaffected and we've reaped the benefits of that. We know we're capable of good performances and if we can regain those levels, maybe I can have the best of both worlds."
The Ospreys named a team minus 18 front line players for Friday's top-of-the-table visit of Leinster, who in contrast can call upon internationals Gordon D'Arcy, Girvan Dempsey, Trevor Hogan, Shane Horgan, Bernard Jackman, Shane Jennings and Malcolm O'Kelly, while Sean O'Brien and Chris Whitaker return from injury.
Dragons, who entertain league leaders Munster a day later, will be minus lock Luke Charteris and tighthead prop Rhys Thomas, now likely starters for Wales against Italy in 10 days' time, while Gareth Wyatt is injured.
Munster can deploy Peter Stringer, Mick O'Driscoll and Denis Leamy, but Rua Tipoki's return is still on hold.
Connacht welcome back fit-again Johnny O'Connor for the visit of Cardiff. Blues' Bradley Davies and John Yapp have been retained by Wales along with their established stars, but lock Robin Sowden-Taylor returns from injury.