Friday 20 September 2019

'I was gutted to be axed but I'm happy to move on'- Andrew Trimble

'Andrew Trimble has been Ulster’s go-to man in Europe since he made his debut in the old Heineken Cup against Treviso in January 2006'
'Andrew Trimble has been Ulster’s go-to man in Europe since he made his debut in the old Heineken Cup against Treviso in January 2006'
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

You imagine there are roughly two categories of player coming into a European Champions Cup that follows hard on the heels of World Cup: those who are still a bit wrecked from the main event; and those who are straining at the leash to prove that leaving them out of that main event was a mistake.

In Andrew Trimble's case, he is closer to the second group, but he's not coming across like a man who has issues with Joe Schmidt for leaving him out of the 31-man World Cup squad. You'll remember that he went off injured after 35 minutes of the first warm-up game, against Wales, and when it emerged that it was the same foot that had cost him most of last season, his chances of making the plane looked remote.

Not many of us actually believed the official line that followed - that it was not the same toe injury. Yet he came back and put in a solid 80 minutes for Ulster against Edinburgh in the Pro12, the week before Schmidt announced his World Cup squad.

And still be got knocked back, this player who was the classic example of an athlete remoulded by a new influence: his coach.

"I felt I was going well," he says. "I was carrying the ball well, I was getting up in D, taking a couple of high balls. I was just doing everything that Joe likes. Maybe if I hadn't had that setback? At one stage I thought that setback was going to be a massive setback - the injury to the toe. For a day or two, I thought I'd done the same thing again before I went to London to see a consultant.

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He said I'd just broken down some scar tissue, so I knew I was going to be okay two weeks later, but those two weeks were just crucial."

And that awful, sinking feeling of being told you're on the outside looking in? "I feel like I'm talking about it quite a bit," he says. "It's grand - it's a normal thing to bring up and it was a big thing for me. I wasn't keen on talking about that much. After I talked to Joe, I was obviously gutted for a day or two, but after that I just wanted to get straight back into it.

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Then, when Jared (Payne) got injured, it was, 'Is this going to be my chance?' I did the same thing for a couple of days, hoping, waiting, thinking I might get a phone call and then again, disappointment for a day or two. You get used to it as a professional. I've had plenty of disappointment and plenty of good times, so I know how to deal with both of them now.

"I'm not uncomfortable talking about it. I just don't want it to sound like a sob story. A big part of me thinks that I don't blame Joe at all because I had only played one game when all of the other wings in Ireland are playing out of their skins. It is a big ask for him to put a lot of faith in me. I don't at all think I should have been on the plane. He knows more than I do. I was happy to take his decision and just move on, really."

And where better to move on to than the Champions Cup. Andrew Trimble has been Ulster's go-to man in Europe since he made his debut in the old Heineken Cup against Treviso in January 2006. He had put together a remarkable run of 58 unbroken games - a tournament record - before last season turned into the Saga of the Toe.

He only regained fitness during the preamble to the World Cup. That stretch didn't feature any silverware but still, you couldn't put together that kind of sequence without having a few special days.

"Beating Munster in the quarter-final in Thomond was a big win," he says. "Castres away from home. Winning in Bath two years in a row; winning in Welford Road; Montpellier. The ones on the road are special but there have been a few big nights here (in Kingspan)."They'll have to wait another fortnight for the next instalment in that series.

Jack O'Donoghue is tackled by Ulster's Andrew Trimble last week

Mark McCall was the coach who gave Trimble his first big career break, but that's got lost in the heat generated by the relationship between Ulster and Saracens.

"Och, I don't want to make it to personal, but definitely there is a bit of a rivalry developed there at our end because we have been on the right end of a few results," Trimble says.

"Obviously, whenever Jared got sent off that year, we were on the wrong end of that result, but the performance we produced with 14 men was unbelievable. But who cares? You've got nothing to show for it, really.

"And then we got outsmarted in Twickenham that time. There is definitely a big rivalry there. We've got to really think through what we're going to do for that game.

We are talking about all the impact that the boys are going to bring, and I'm really looking forward to getting back in because I think that we're more than capable of producing two big performances away to Oyonnax and then home to Sarries."

It helps that at last they have Les Kiss on board full-time, especially for Trimble, who enjoys a really good relationship with the coach whose appointment had been delayed until he saw out his Ireland contract.

"I get on great with him," he says. "I obviously know him pretty well, and I get the impression he's really excited about the job in hand. He's going to put himself under pressure and the rest of us under pressure and hopefully our standards will go through the roof.

"I hope we will play what's described as exciting rugby whenever it's appropriate. We were at a supporters' event the other night and the impression I had was that they want us to play a brand like the one we played against Munster.

I just think we want to do that whenever it's appropriate. I just want to be a little bit sensible about it as well when we're playing sides like the Ospreys or Edinburgh away from home.

"These sides kick the ball a lot, and if you fall for it too early . . . you just have to be sensible, play the right amount of rugby. Not being negative in any way, but it is just getting the balance right between being creative and being sensible. I'm hoping that the balance would be perfectly struck with the combination of Kissy and Doaky (Neil Doak). I think Doaky's creativity and Les being tough on us and raising our standards - that combination is going to be really important."

That's what the supporters are expecting. This afternoon, a bunch of them will make the trip over to Newport where Ulster, with a 50 per cent record so far, take on the Dragons in the Pro12. Trimble will sit it out to get a hamstring strain sorted ahead of Europe and Oyonnax next weekend. Already the World Cup is in the rear-view mirror.

Dragons: C Meyer; A Hewitt, A Hughes, A Warren, N Scott; D Jones, S Pretorius; B Stankovich, E Dee, S Knight; C Hill, R Landman (capt); E Jackson, O Griffiths, T Faletau. Replacements: R Buckley, P Price, B Harris, M Screech, L Evans, C Davies, J Tovey, R Wardle.

Ulster: P Nelson; R Scholes, D Cave, S McCloskey, S Arnold; P Jackson, P Marshall; K McCall, R Herring (capt), W Herbst; D Tuohy, F van der Merwe; R Diack, C Henry, S Mulholland. Replacements: R Best, R Lutton, B Ross, L Stevenson, S Reidy, R Pienaar, I Humphreys, C Gilroy.

Dragons v Ulster,

BBC 2 (NI), 2.30

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