Ireland's call makes Darren Cave's day
Darren Cave's face appears to fit well enough to have earned him a place in Joe Schmidt's squad for what is his first RBS 6 Nations Championship as Ireland's head coach.
But while Cave was celebrating his inclusion in the 34-strong panel named yesterday, Ulster colleague Craig Gilroy was left licking his sores after being omitted.
Cave was unhappy after Ireland's Guinness Series in November, going public to suggest that he felt his face did not fit.
Schmidt's decision to retain the 26-year-old midfielder despite that display of dissatisfaction owes much to his work since the Irish players went into camp to start preparing for what lies ahead and his defensive contribution to the Wolfhounds' success against England Saxons in Gloucester on Saturday night.
On that occasion, Cave was selected at 12 rather than 13, the outside-centre's job having gone to Connacht's Robbie Henshaw. The 20-year-old – whom Warren Gatland rates highly enough to have tried to pinch him for Wales – is fast-emerging as the favourite to succeed O'Driscoll when he hangs up his boots.
But Cave's performance for the Wolfhounds will have increased his value in Schmidt's eyes, for if he can play 12 or 13, that makes him a more-than-useful candidate for a place on the bench.
True, his 22-year-old Ulster team-mate Luke Marshall is ahead of him in the pecking order right now. But with Gordon D'Arcy turning 34 on February 10, Cave may be able to queue-jump the Leinster veteran.
Adaptability will weigh in his favour; Schmidt is a big fan of versatility, as Ulster's Paddy Jackson discovered when Leinster's Ian Madigan stole a march in November by virtue of his ability to play in more than one position.
But the situation for 22-year-old Gilroy right now is less encouraging. Injury problems at the start of the season delayed the winger's return to action and he has not managed to recapture the form that saw him break onto the international stage in such spectacular fashion in November 2012.
With Ulster's Lions ace Tommy Bowe still unavailable due to injury – albeit that he hopes to be back in time for Ireland's match against England at Twickenham on March 22 – and Munster's Keith Earls ruled out of the entire Six Nations, there were vacancies for wingers.
In the circumstances, Gilroy will be gutted at having missed out. So too will Munster's Simon Zebo, like Bowe a Lion. He was unable to squeeze into the 34, either. But as per the proverb, it's an ill-wind that blows nobody any good. And in this instance it has blown in Andrew Trimble's favour.
He and Dan Tuohy were 'possibles' rather than 'probables' prior to yesterday's unveiling of the squad. But both have made it into the 34. Now comes the really hard part of the job.
Tuohy played for the Wolfhounds at Kingsholm on Saturday night and clearly did enough to persuade Schmidt, who was in Gloucester to witness that hard-fought Irish victory first hand.
In the wake of his non-involvement in any of November's three Guinness Series Tests, Tuohy had an amicable heart-to-heart with Schmidt to determine where he stood.
The coach identified areas on which he felt the 28-year-old second row forward should work in order to improve his game and his prospects.
Shortly after that conversation, Tuohy told the Belfast Telegraph: "I have spoken to Joe Schmidt and he has been excellent. We were very honest with each other and it was a good way of dealing with things. He told me what I needed to do, and I know where I'm at and we are on the same page with that.
"He knows I was disappointed at not being involved in the November Tests, but he wants me to be disappointed. If you're a coach and your players are not disappointed about not playing, then you have a problem.
"He told me 'Go and play for Ulster and we'll be looking at you'. That's all I needed to hear."
Tuohy having done as advised, Schmidt has been as good as his word in rewarding him for his willingness to graft. The next task is even harder, though, for with Paul O'Connell having been awarded the Irish captaincy, that leaves Tuohy competing against Ulster colleague Iain Henderson plus Leinster pair Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy for the other lock's jersey.
Significantly, Ireland stressed that the panel named yesterday is for the first two of the five Tests – Scotland on Sunday and Wales the following Saturday, both at the Aviva Stadium. Others will join later, so some of yesterday's 34 will drop out.
Eight Ulstermen, 18 from Leinster, just five from Munster, one from Connacht and two who are plying their trade beyond Ireland's shores – Racing Metro fly-half Jonny Sexton and Cardiff Blues No 8 Robin Copeland who was also involved with the Wolfhounds.
Copeland is one of a trio of uncapped forwards, Leinster pair Martin Moore (tight-head) and Jordi Murphy (loose-forward), two more who contributed much to the Wolfhounds' win at the weekend.