Ulster ace leaving injury woe in past
With a try-scoring performance in the stunning 38-0 Champions Cup win over Toulouse on Friday night, Ulster's Andrew Trimble finally feels back to his best following the disappointment of missing out on Ireland's World Cup.
After the summertime blow of being discarded by Joe Schmidt, niggling injuries and a lack of opportunities with ball in hand left the province's most capped player failing to fully hit his stride in recent months but he was front and centre once again for Les Kiss at the weekend.
The 31-year-old had been in the form of his life before a toe injury last October kept him out for nine months and, if not for that spell on the sidelines, he surely would have maintained his standing as an important figure for the Test squad.
After returning to action in August, Trimble had just one month to force his way back into Schmidt's plans but another foot injury in the warm-up against Wales stacked the odds against him.
Back in the familiar colours of Ulster, he had crossed the whitewash just once during this campaign before providing a telling intervention just before half-time on Friday night.
The hosts led 10-0 as the turn approached but, when scrum-half Ruan Pienaar (pictured) sent Trimble into space, the Coleraine man backed himself with a chip and chase over the heads of Toulouse's back-three rather than the safer option of finding Paddy Jackson on his inside.
With a burst of pace seeing him first to the ball to dot down under the posts, it was a crucial moment in what turned into an emphatic victory.
"(It's difficult) once you hit 31 and you haven't played rugby in a year," mused Trimble afterwards. "I'd only scored one try this season and if you are not scoring tries as a winger, you have to do a lot of unseen work.
"You have to be getting over the gain line, making breaks, offloading and making tries so it is very pleasing just to get back on the score sheet, to get back to feeling confident, feeling fast and that my footwork is a little more dynamic than it has been.
"I have been threatening to produce little glimpses of how I feel I should be playing.
"It was only a couple of years ago when I felt I was producing the best rugby of my career, that doesn't just disappear.
"Coming back from injury, it is difficult to get your head space right. It was quite new to me because I haven't found myself in too much open space recently.
"It was a little flashback to 2006 when I got a bit of space against Toulouse.
"I think the reason our backs haven't found as much space as we would like is we haven't had the conditions for it.
"The last three or four weeks have been brutal but Toulouse was the night everything was perfect and we had no excuses.
"We had to go out and play the rugby that suits us and express ourselves.
"We played with lots of width and ambition and we turned the screw. Once we got the four tries we kept going and then we kept our line intact at the end."
While Trimble played with real intent, and also maintained the achievement of holding Ulster's opponents to nil with a try-saving tackle in the second-half, his strong performance was one of many in the home side's ranks.
With a return game against a shell-shocked Toulouse to come this weekend, Ulster can catapult themselves right into the shake-up for a quarter-final place with another win - two games against struggling Oyonnax still lie ahead - but Trimble has warned that the four-time winners will be a different proposition back in their Stade Ernest Wallon home.
"Our defence was reasonably comfortable at the end and it was difficult for them to keep playing as they didn't have much to play for but that is not the Toulouse we are going to see next week," he warned.
"We have seen this before in 2006. We gave them a hiding but they are a different side when they are at home.
"We have got to go over there and produce a massive performance. We have to be clever, we have to be ambitious and they will play a different game plan at home.
"We'll expect a backlash. They wouldn't be happy with 38-0. These back-to-back games happen every year in this competition, they are completely different.
"It is important we get our homework right and go again.
"I'm sure Les and Doaky (Neil Doak) will have something up their sleeves and we have a few ideas as well.
"We probably learned something from (the win) and there were a few ways we got joy and a few ways we didn't.
"Hopefully it will be something similar."