Horgan thankful for second chance
Of all the players who ran a gauntlet of charged anger from Irish supporters following last weekend's near fatal meltdown against Namibia, at least one player can say with absolute confidence: "I wasn't there."
Shane Horgan's knee injury prevented him taking the field in Bordeaux -- there but for the grace of God and all that -- but given his nightmare experience on the Murrayfield turf last month, schadenfreude was the last thing on his mind.
When Horgan crumpled to the Murrayfield turf in agony during the warm-up 34 days ago after innocently tripping on a divot, the snap he heard emanating from his knee resembled the slamming of a door on his Rugby World Cup dreams.
After slipping on his right leg, his left leg buckled beneath him. It could easily have ruptured; indeed his heart sunk immediately, his instinct and that of the medical staff's was this is serious.
"I was extremely worried as there were only a couple of weeks until the start of the World Cup," said Horgan, who returns to the Irish side for this Saturday's hopefully restorative Pool D clash with Georgia.
"No matter what injury you have, it's not great timing to get one because you don't have a lot of time to get back. There was also the fact I knew it was sort of serious because I felt a pop and I knew straight away it was medial ligament related and those things can take a long time.
"Honestly speaking it was hard to stay positive when I was in Scotland and when I was lying in the MRI machine because I was convinced I had done a little bit more damage than had shown.
"Luckily, when we got the scan back it was a Grade Two tear and that gave me the opportunity to get back."
Faced with the compelling dilemma of a fitness regime governed by a looming deadline, Horgan was able to confront the positive memories of a comparable resuscitation earlier this season, when he made a similarly speedy recovery to buttress Ireland's historic first win in Croke Park against England.
Injury recovery is as much a mental discipline as it is physical and, regardless of the immeasurable medical back-up provided to Ireland's elite rugby players, an optimistic outlook can heal wounds much quicker.
Horgan's initial recovery was restrictive and yawningly slow enough to cast even more doubts upon a recovery schedule which had Georgia on his mind.
His leg was in a brace for the first two weeks; unshackled just two weeks later, Horgan literally sprinted throughout the rest of his recovery.
"It really helps you when you have a carrot and, both this time and last, I had a very significant carrot," he avers.
"The first time it was to play in Croke Park and this time it was to play in the Rugby World Cup so it certainly makes rehabilitation a lot easier.
"The challenge was to get back and play in the World Cup but it wouldn't be enough for me just to be on the field. If I was going to come back, I wanted to play as well as I possibly can.
"I'm probably not going to get another World Cup so I wasn't going to go out just to make up the numbers. I wouldn't come back just for the sake of it. I'd be taking advantage of my team-mates if that was the case.
"But of course I am itching to get back now.
It would have been really disappointing to have missed out on the World Cup, it's a marquee tournament, it's the one everyone wants to be involved in and you want to play in every single game."
While last Sunday's evidence would not bear out the much-trumpeted assertion that this is the best prepared squad ever, arguably the most consistent high-performers within Team Ireland have been the medical staff.
Their management and rehabilitation of the most serious of injuries has ensured Ireland have never suffered the surfeit of ongoing injuries which, given their limited resources and unused depth, could be fatal. Thus Horgan deflects any personal praise for his heroic efforts to fight his injury.
"I don't think my body is vastly different from anyone else's," he demurs.
"But within Irish rugby we are very lucky to have a phenomenal level of medical supervision.
"I was able to see a radiologist Steve Eustace and a consultant knee surgeon Ray Moran straight away, the top men in their field. Then I dealt with the medical staff here, Brian Green, Cameron Steele and Gary O'Driscoll and then we've got Mike McGurn, a fitness guy, as well.
"All of those people, who have come in with the increased level of professionalism, have really benefited me to recover from this injury and the one prior to it."
Hence he can dismiss fears that his return is premature. "No, it's not just about getting back onto the field. That's not acceptable. I want to play as well as I can."
His Leinster colleague Brian O'Driscoll said: "It's a massive, massive boost for us, it really is.
"I can't speak highly enough of him, just his whole attitude, the way he has treated his injury, the shape he is in, the hunger he has.
"The leadership he brings to the team is something that very, very few players have to that standard and I always thoroughly look forward to playing in the same team as him.
"He'll bring something to this World Cup."