Dan Tuohy locked in battle to retain his starting role at Ulster
Dan Tuohy, who will lead Ulster in Saturday night's pre-season friendly against Leinster at Tallaght Stadium, admits that he has a fight on his hands if he is to continue as an international lock forward.
Indeed, the 6ft 5in (1.95m), 18st 3lb (115kg) second row concedes that his place as a big-match starter in the Ulster pack is now under threat, too.
In the circumstances he is gearing up for a battle royal in the hope of convincing Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and his Belfast-based lieutenant Les Kiss that he fits both of their needs.
From February onwards last season, injury dashed most of Tuohy's plans. His form prior to that had earned him a Six Nations start against Scotland. The following week, against Wales, he was deployed from the bench. But he broke his arm minutes after joining the fray and after that it was largely a case of one setback after another.
His limited appearances cost him a place in the Irish party for the two-match summer tour of Argentina.
Meanwhile, Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson rose in the pecking order, meaning that Tuohy – who was Johann Muller's engine-room partner in the matches that mattered in recent years – must prove his worth once again.
Some have suggested that he could be tempted to try his hand at number six but Tuohy himself poured cold water on that.
"I played a little bit there years ago; I was quite a late-comer to rugby," he said. "I just think I don't really get the time and reps and minutes in that position.
"I remember playing for Ireland here (Belfast) at blindside flanker once – an Ireland 'A' game against Scotland – and it went well," he recalled. "But it's not the sort of position I can just jump into from the second row; it's tougher than you think it is.
"Although, you really only have to do it off the scrum and then everything's kind of generic; when you're in open field it doesn't really matter too much."
For a moment it appeared that the idea might just have resonated within him.
Instantly, though, he snuffed it out, saying: "I'm struggling to keep my position with Hendy on my case without having to worry about keeping Robbie (Diack) out of that position! (blindside)."
Saturday will see him in harness with Franco van der Merwe, who will call the line-out against Leinster.
"This week it has kind of been a merger between me and Franco working the middle of the line-out," Tuohy revealed. "He's going to call the line-outs this week."
This weekend's outing is Ulster's last before the season-proper gets under way with a trip to Llanelli where Scarlets will be waiting on September 6.
Asked how he sees 2014-15 panning out following the loss of three of the front five forwards in Tom Court, John Afoa and Muller, he replied: "Like every season, top four (in the PRO12) and make it out of our group (European Champions Cup). I believe we can do it."
And reflecting on the European pool – Ulster are grouped with holders Toulon, Leicester Tigers and Scarlets – he mused: "I'm looking forward to that already."