Joe Schmidt call lifted red-card burden – Sam Arnold
Munster centre has set sights on Irish call after bouncing back from setback
Just as everything was finally beginning to fall into place for Sammy Arnold, another unforeseen setback threatened to derail his considerable progress.
This time, however, it was all his own doing, rather than an injury curtailing his involvement.
Arnold was fired up, make no mistake about it, but then again who wouldn't have been?
Returning to the club that released him two years ago, the 22-year-old was desperate to make an impression.
As the clock ticked close to the hour mark, Arnold's homecoming of sorts was going according to plan as Munster led Ulster 17-5.
That was until a rush of the blood to the head saw Arnold smash Christian Lealiifano in a tackle and when his arm slipped up around the Australian's neck area, the referee had little option but to brandish the red card.
It was a sobering moment for the youngster and it would cost Munster the game as well as three-week ban for Arnold, at a time when he had finally put his injury nightmare behind him.
Arnold got a chance to ease some of those painful memories in the return game against his former side last Saturday, and he impressed, particularly in defence, as a second-string Munster side dug out a draw.
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Perhaps it was no surprise that the centre was the only player picked who started the previous game against Racing. This one meant more to Arnold, and Johann van Graan recognised as much by giving him the nod.
"After the game in January, when I got the red card, I had weeks and weeks and weeks, to have it in the back of my head," Arnold says, reflecting on the last four months.
"It was the game I had been looking forward to for a while, trying to clean the slate for the guys and the team. I felt a bit guilty about it for a while, a bit of a burden.
"Obviously playing against your old team, there is always that bit of an edge. It was a game I really enjoyed."
The landscape is a lot more positive for Arnold now than it was that night in Belfast back in January.
The days that followed weren't easy as he knew he had let himself and his team-mates down, but his mood was lifted by a surprise phone call the next week.
"It was just after the red card and I was sitting at home in my bedroom probably feeling sorry for myself when I should have been feeling sorry for my team-mates," he admits.
"I got a phone call and it said Dublin below the number and I thought, 'I wonder who this is?'
"Joe (Schmidt) then introduced himself and asked me to come in for a few days. My girlfriend was asking, 'Who is that?' She was roaring the house down. She was thrilled."
Arnold's call-up to train with the Ireland squad may have come out of the blue for the player himself but Schmidt had been monitoring his progress closely.
Training in Carton House proved that reaching the next step was perhaps not as far as Arnold thought, which is a fair achievement for a player who started his season playing in the AIL with Garryowen.
"The main aim was to get back fit and get a few games and see what happens," he says.
"Not in a million years would I have imagined the season I have had.
"I think it shows you that if you want to get there (international level), this is what you have to do.
"If you want to win a Grand Slam, how much more there is still to learn, how much more you need to work.
"Joe is that guy, his attention to detail, his relentlessness, his work ethic, is unbelievable. He strives and strives and strives for perfection and I think that rubs off on the players.
"That showed during the Six Nations when he went on to win the Grand Slam. I felt very lucky to see what it takes to win it and the hours, and weeks that goes into that was incredible."
A product of the exiles system, Arnold impressed for Ireland at U-20s level in 2015 when he formed an excellent midfield partnership with Garry Ringrose.
Injuries to Jaco Taute and Chris Farrell have opened the door for him with Munster this season and he has slotted in well alongside Rory Scannell.
The next step is a first senior international cap, and while next month's tour to Australia is very much in Arnold's sights, he is realistic about the quality of midfield options available to Schmidt.
"Obviously if I get asked to go, I would love to go," he enthuses.
"But Robbie (Henshaw) is obviously back from injury now, Garry (Ringrose), Robbie and Bundee (Aki) were awesome during the Six Nations.
"Rory (Scannell) has been player of the year here, the rock of our team this year. I don't like to get too far ahead of myself.
"Some guys get ahead of themselves too soon but my feet are firmly on the ground, and I just want to take it week by week and day by day."
That measured approach has gotten Arnold this far - now he is hoping it will propel him to the next level.
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