Schmidt shows no mercy as excluded D'Arcy faces end of the line
TWELVE months ago this week, Gordon D'Arcy stood alongside his team-mates and applauded Brian O'Driscoll off the Aviva Stadium turf for the last time.
A double act in the Leinster and Ireland midfield, the duo had been synonymous with one another since being paired together for the first time in 2004, but while the slightly older O'Driscoll was exiting stage left in 2014, D'Arcy still felt he had it in him to make the World Cup.
O'Driscoll's fairytale ending was an unrealistic representation of professional sport. In rugby, few go out on their own terms.
Yesterday, Joe Schmidt cut D'Arcy from his Ireland squad and, while he is sure to have placed a phone call to the player himself, the press release that announced the decision showed how cold life can be in the fast lane of international rugby.
"The following players have been invited into Ireland camp to prepare for the final two games of the 2015 RBS 6 Nations Championship," it read, before listing 36 names, of which D'Arcy's wasn't one. No tributes, no explanation, just a name that was conspicuous by its absence.
He hasn't retired and remains available for selection, but this felt like the end of the road for Ireland's 10th most capped player. Schmidt named enough players to field more than two Test teams and feels comfortable with Ian Madigan and Darren Cave covering Robbie Henshaw in the No 12 slot.
D'Arcy has always appeared vulnerable during Schmidt's time with Ireland. He started the first game against Samoa, but was then dropped in favour of Luke Marshall for Australia a week later. Having regained his place for the remainder of 2013/14, he was cut last November for the win over South Africa, but was recalled when Jared Payne hurt his foot, winning his 81st cap.
That could turn out to be the final day of an illustrious life in green.
Before that game, he spoke of his enduring disappointment at being left out. He may have been nearing 35, but he wasn't giving up the ghost.
"I'm a competitor like everybody here and I want to be involved in every game. It's never nice to be left out in the cold," he said. "Some things are out of your hands - you just have to go with it. You just have to take every opportunity that comes - when you get them you have to make yourself indispensable."
The writing was on the wall for D'Arcy before the Six Nations even got under way. With Payne regaining fitness in time, the Leinster man needed a big January to stake his claim for the green jersey; instead Matt O'Connor left him on the bench for the duration of the decisive Champions Cup draw with Wasps.
When Schmidt offered him a Wolfhounds slot to prove his worth, he tried but nothing came off. The sight of an 81-cap veteran struggling amongst the up-and-comers in Cork was sad to see.
He remained in camp, helping to prepare Henshaw until yesterday he was cut loose. The player of the Six Nations in his breakthrough year in 2004, he has been involved in every Irish campaign since until being consigned to a watching brief for 2015. He remains an injury away from World Cup selection, but it is almost certain his Championship career is at an end after 42 games and five tries.
D'Arcy has been out in the cold before. A promising underage player, he had to wait five years between his debut against Romania in 1999 and his first Six Nations outing against France.
Back then, it was a case of sorting out his attitude because the talent was there. Now, he faces a much more difficult challenge of rolling back the years at 35. If he can't, a celebrated Ireland career will be at an end.