Trimble facing uphill fight to climb back onto big stage
Andrew Trimble can be forgiven for feeling that the past three months have been a rugby roller-coaster ride.
Of late the Ulster and Ireland wing’s confidence and hopes have soared and dived like a hawk, with last weekend’s ejection from Declan Kidney’s 33-strong squad for the RBS 6Nations Championship the latest and deepest downward dip.
Trimble was delighted when he was named in the Irish starting line-up for the Guinness Series clash with South Africa at the start of November, his inclusion at number 11 being the deserved recognition of his form for Ulster.
But the Boks — inspired by his Ulster team-mate Ruan Pienaar — won 16-12 and Trimble, who earned his 49th cap that day, did not have a particularly good game.
He was not alone, though; few of the Irish backs emerged from that defeat with their reputations enhanced.
A week later in was another Ulster wing, Craig Gilroy, who became the talk and the toast of rugby on this island following his outstanding performance for the Irish XV in their non-caps destruction of Fiji at Thomond Park.
Left-wing Gilroy scored a hat-trick of tries, earning himself rave reviews. Thus, when the team to face Argentina a week later in a crucial Test match was named, Trimble made way. He was the one fall-guy in the wake of the defeat by South Africa.
Gilroy’s full international debut could not have gone better. A mere 11 minutes in, he scored a brilliant try before going on to play a major part in the creation of three others.
While he was setting the Aviva Stadium alight, Trimble was on his way home from Treviso where he had gone to help Ulster after being deemed surplus to Ireland’s requirements. Named at 14 by Mark Anscombe, Trimble was the senior statesman in a back three which featured fledglings Peter Nelson at full-back and Michael Allen on the left wing.
Trimble started the next match for Ulster, too — against Scarlets in Llanelli, where he scored a typically opportunistic try.
Five days later, Anscombe chose him ahead of Gilroy in his starting XV for Ulster’s Heineken Cup date with Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens. Trimble justified the coach’s faith in him with a magnificent display which included him scoring the first of Ulster’s four tries.
The return match a week later at Ravenhill saw Trimble clock up his 50th Heineken Cup appearance.
And now that he is within one cap of a half-century for Ireland, he finds himself slipping down the international ladder.
Not only has Gilroy climbed ahead of him; Leinster’s 2009 British & Irish Lion Luke Fitzgerald is back following serious injury. In addition, the availability of fit-again centre supreme Brian O’Driscoll means he can renew his midfield partnership with Gordon D’Arcy, as a result of which Keith Earls is in the chase for a place out wide.
And Rob Kearney’s return after injury means Munster’s Simon Zebo wants a place on the wing, too, now that the number 15 jersey is no longer an option.
Trimble would do well to listen to an Ulster colleague who, like him, was ousted. Big prop, Tom Court, is the man in question.
Now back in the reckoning, it is worth recalling that describing a similar state of affairs a few weeks ago, he said: “It has always been the way with my playing rugby that if you can string a few games together and keep that consistency going you get a feel for it, you begin to improve and you keep improving.
“Whether that form and whether that consistency will make any difference in selections going forward, who knows?
“I guess all I can do is keep doing as much as I can and keep playing well. After that it’s out of my hands.
“Declan (Kidney) has a tough job in trying to keep all the parties happy.
“I don’t envy him that. All I can do is control the controllables.”
Meanwhile Ireland’s temporary loss is Ulster’s gain with Trimble now available for the upcoming PRO12 games against Ospreys, Zebre and Glasgow.