Ian Humphreys’ disappointment at not having made the Irish senior squad to face Australia on Sunday at Croke Park underlines the Ulster fly-half’s new-found confidence.
He has moved from a position of not being sure of a place in Ulster’s plans to one where he is disappointed not to be figuring at full international level.
That is a remarkable change of circumstances.
Tonight at Ravenhill he lines out at number 10 for Ireland ‘A’ against a full international Tongan side.
Earlier this week Ireland ‘A’ captain Shane Horgan made the point that this is a shop window for players hoping to impress sufficiently to merit a call to service at the higher level.
One suspected he was referring to himself, though diplomacy and modesty forbade him from putting it quite so bluntly.
Horgan has played for Ireland’s seniors and so has sampled the delights, despairs and decorations that go with participation at that level. Clearly he wants more of it.
Humphreys, in contrast, has yet to feature in the top flight, though doubtless he will have heard plenty of what that entails from his older brother, David, who did.
But Humphreys Jnr, who has appeared at ‘A’ level before, is on the rise afresh, a fact proven by tonight’s inclusion from the start.
He handles the potentially tricky issue of senior squad status with admirable skill.
Able to avoid back row forwards on the pitch by virtue of his speed, balance and vision, he shows comparable mental dexterity in side-stepping questions which probe beyond the depths of his comfort zone.
But whilst he says nothing indiscrete or incriminating, he does not attempt to hide his feelings. There is nothing particularly cryptic in what he says. Clearly his sights are fixed on bigger targets.
“I’m reasonably happy, I suppose. Maybe there’s a slight disappointment that I wasn’t in the big squad, but at the same time there was already three in there with Paddy (Wallace), Jonny (Sexton) and Ronan (O’Gara) so I wasn’t really expecting it,” he explains.
“But compared with the summer when I wasn’t in any squad it’s a move forward.”
It is significant that he refers to his Ulster captain and colleague, Paddy Wallace, as a stand-off rather than an inside-centre. Mind you, Andrew Trimble regards himself as being a centre while Ulster and Ireland see him having most to offer out wide.
The adjective ‘disappointing’ resurfaces when he talks about the senior squad as a whole from an Ulster perspective.
“We’ve only got three in there and that’s something we’re keen to improve, obviously. We talked about it in pre-season and agreed that if Ulster played well as a team there would be greater recognition for more of us as individuals.
“At this stage Leinster and Munster provide the bulk of the senior squad, which is fair enough in that they have been the successful sides in Irish rugby for the past few years.
“It’s going to take us a while to start getting involved again in greater numbers at that level. But provided we continue to compete and improve in the Magners League and Heineken Cup there’s no reason why that can’t happen.”
Like his view of the Ulster players’ collective prospects, Humphreys’ self-assessment is candid.
“At the start of the season my kicking was poor. I didn’t kick well in the first two or three of the games,” he says.
“But I did a lot of work in the week leading up to the Connacht match because that was obviously a big one with seedings in Ireland and so forth. Connacht would have seen us as the closest team to compete against so we had to deal with that.
“Fortunately I kicked well that night and it has gone on well since then. That was a turning point for me in terms of my goal-kicking.
“It was a big, big week. I must have had five or six hour-and-a-half to two-hour sessions just trying to find out what was going wrong.
“Fortunately we were able to tweak a few things and I’ve got to a point where I now know that so long as I don’t do anything stupid the ball is going to go over the bar.”
Tonight he can do himself a huge favour by performing well against the Tongans.