Monday 17 December 2018

'I'm very grateful to Joe for letting me come in'

Sam Arnold is ready and waiting to answer Ireland’s call if it comes his way. Photo: Sportsfile
Sam Arnold is ready and waiting to answer Ireland’s call if it comes his way. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

As Sam Arnold takes his leave, it is a wonder that he doesn't pivot on the spot while clutching a rabbit's foot in one hand and thwacking the wooden dais with another.

Ireland's 13 jersey is a luckless fabric to inhabit at the moment; already in a campaign which Ireland entered without its supposed prime contender - Jared Payne - two more men have been felled by cruel fate.

Even as we speak, Chris Farrell, man of the match against Wales in the second leg of a putative Grand Slam quest, has been summoned to the medical bay and like Robbie Henshaw before him, will miss the rest of Ireland's campaign.

Little wonder that there is dimming enthusiasm privately amongst the Irish staff about how exactly to manage Garry Ringrose. With Keith Earls revelling on the wing, Arnold seems to be the next man up - Ulster's candidates are miles off the pace.

The decision to draft him into camp in January now seems extremely prescient, indeed.

"It's good, obviously I'm just trying to learn as much as I can," says the Munster man, perhaps now an unwitting beneficiary of Lady Luck's curling finger of doom.

"I'm very grateful to Joe for letting me come in and I'm just picking up those little bits of information when I can, and applying them to the game.

"For Joe to ring me up and tell me he wanted me to come in, it does give you that kind of lift that you might not be too far away.


"And it stays in the back of your head that there might be a sniff sometime in the future if you keep working hard.

"I just happen to be injury-free and hopefully that carries on for the rest of my career. I just want to play as many games as I can, get as many involvements in games and keep working on my fitness.

"These things come easier with games and age, your touch gets better, you can see things earlier, so hopefully that all keeps getting better with time as well."

Arnold, of course, has an intimate acquaintance with injury; two pre-seasons ago, he did his cruciate; then, when he returned, he did the medial ligament in his other knee.

Farrell's own battle of wounded knee has, this season, seen him suffer the same injuries in the reverse order; both sustained on Ireland duty.

When Arnold finally broke through with Munster in their pre-Christmas Champions Cup campaign, his side were minus casualties Farrell, Jaco Taute, Tyler Bleyendaal and Keith Earls, all potentially midfield candidates.

The Surrey son of a Wexford mother batted not an eye-lid and merely raised the eyebrows of others; Brian O'Driscoll, no less, awarded him the man-of -the-match award against Leicester Tigers in Thomond Park.

And yet a three-week suspension incurred at the start of this year threatened to unspool all the progress he had gained after re-awakening a career that had threatened to stall since debuting as a teenager for Ulster in Europe.

"Chris had got himself back from his knee injury, then he was back playing and he has been awesome all year, so it was a bit of a momentum staller, 100pc.

"But to be honest, I was out of the game for 18 months and it actually gave me four or five weeks to get my conditioning back up and keep rehabbing those little niggles that maybe were at me before.

"So I actually think I came out better at the end of it. I was delighted to get the man of the match and Joe rang me up a few weeks after that. To be honest, the individual side of things doesn't really bother me, if the team's playing well then the individual is as well."

He may say that now but this individual has always been driven; as we detailed here before, telling his old schools' coach that he not only wanted to play for Ireland but the Lions, too, despite a string of rejections from English representative sides and the Harlequins Academy.

"I have obviously been split between the two countries when I was younger. I would spend a lot of summers at my granny and granddads.


"My mum (Jackie) would always have been cheering for Ireland. My stepdad would have been cheering for England.

"I grew up watching Drico, Gordon D'Arcy, and ever since we did the Irish stuff at 16, I haven't wanted to play for any other country.

"I might not have the Irish accent but I feel more Irish than a lot of people. I would give absolutely everything if I did get the opportunity to wear a jersey and if I did I would be incredibly grateful."

He now intends to become the latest to follow in O'Driscoll's footsteps where once he merely traced them in awe from afar.

"I remember the flick-over where Drico (playing for Leinster in the RDS) flicked it over the head of someone and then caught it. I tried it a few times and I hit someone on the head with it," he grins.

One can be sure Schmidt would not smile if he repeated such an indulgence should his time in green suddenly approach; if not, it will surely happen this summer as his knowledge accelerates.

"I've had a good bit of feedback in camp, just the little things like this week we would have been running lines," he details.

"Joe and Andy Farrell would speak to me every time I'm in camp and tell me what to work on, and if I'm not doing something good give me a clip round the ear and tell me to get better at it.

"I'm sure Joe has aspirations for where he wants Ireland to go, and for that to happen all the players have to buy into it and it has to be a constant strive to get better.

"I want to play for Ireland, that is no secret. To be honest, I tried to look ahead a couple of years ago, and by looking too far ahead, it didn't work out for me, with injuries and stuff like that.

"The main thing for me is breaking it down into mini-cycles, one week at a time, try and get better every week."

With potential peril always lying in wait, staying in the moment has never seemed more apt.

Irish Independent

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