Stuart Olding eyes brighter days after being in dark places
Stuart Olding has revealed he is not expecting an immediate return to the Irish squad for the remainder of the Six Nations championship - but he has one eye on the summer tour to South Africa.
Declaring himself to be a "better player" after witnessing some dark times during a more than two-year injury absence, the gifted 23-year-old centre is hoping that a strong finish to the season with Ulster can compel Joe Schmidt to make him central to his international plans.
"I'm certainly not expecting to be involved," says Olding. "I have confidence, I know how good I can be and at some stage I want to put my hands up for selection.
"After being out for a year and only playing five games since my comeback in January, it would be a big statement to say I should be in the camps now.
"I don't think I've done enough to get in there and play international rugby at this stage. I wouldn't say no! But I've tried to not rush things, I have plenty of games left for Ulster. So if I do well there I can put my hands up for the summer tour and show what I can do down there. It would be nice to be part of the conversation then."
In November 2013, Olding ruptured his ACL playing for the 'A' team but when he returned in January of last year, he suffered an elbow injury that ruled him out for another 10 weeks only to pick up another ACL injury towards the end of last season.
"I'm not going to say it was easy," says the player given his Ulster start just three months after leaving school; current Ulster boss Les Kiss then capped him on a summer US tour before Joe Schmidt took the Ireland reins in summer 2013.
"It was pretty horrendous at times. I went to some dark places but you have to crack on. Think about the next moment. If there's a bad today there's always a tomorrow to make it better.
"Sometimes you get a niggle but you have to look past it. The positive attitude is important. Sometimes you have to stay off your feet for a week and the trust in the medical staff has to be absolute. You put yourself in their hands and respond to them."
He has retuned five kilos lighter, added some kicking to his repertoire but remains a player for whom evasion and quick thinking are chief assets, rather than being a battering ram.
"Obviously there are big centres around," he says; team-mate Stuart McCloskey being one who has starred in his absence for club and country.
"I like to use my footwork and avoid contact, look for my breaks. Others look for contact to get over the gain-line. I know I need to use my distribution skills and heads-up rugby to help the team. I was never a gym junkie in school. I've never worried about my build or anything like that. My skill-set makes me the rugby player that I am. I like to go around people, not through them. I'm very happy with where I am."
Luke Marshall has signed a new two-year deal with the province, with Rory Scholes joining Edinburgh, also on a two-year contract.
Marshall's decision was not unexpected but the Scholes move has raised some eyebrows, particularly given the age and injury profiles of Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble.
Scholes is believed to have been anxious to acquire some guaranteed playing time but it would be a surprise if he were not to return to the province when his Edinburgh stint is concluded. Scholes is just 22 and has scored five times from just 13 appearances in all competitions this season. "I can't wait to get started," he said.