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Ireland stars all live with fear and pain of rejection

By David Kelly

On September 6, 2003, Munster's Irish contingent were enjoying their final sally south before their imminent departure to the World Cup in Australia.

Hours earlier, they had beaten Scotland in their final Murrayfield warm-up clash and, with Eddie O'Sullivan due to announce his squad on the following morning, the players were eager to squeeze some time in with family before their imminent departure.

There were three car-loads, one of which included both David Wallace and Alan Quinlan.

Wallace had played reasonably well - scoring a try - against the Scots despite niggling shoulder injuries and a yellow card; as the players shimmied into Naas for a few quiet pints, they assured him he would be joining them in Australia.

The next day, he found out he wouldn't; Simon Easterby, currently forwards coach, made it instead. "It was a low point in my career," he recalls.

Wallace would, however, make it to Australia when Quinlan's tournament ended in the act of ensuring Ireland's didn't, rupturing his shoulder while scoring a crucial try against Argentina.

A selection call freights a different sense of pain; it is someone else's opinion, a decision which is ostensibly out of your hands and often impossible to agree with.

There will be at least one leading Irish player who will experience this sensation as the countdown to England 2015 continues with, for the fourth successive tournament, a clash against Scotland this weekend in Dublin.

Leo Cullen felt that sense of outrage in 2003 too when his erstwhile Blackrock mentor O'Sullivan chose Ulster's Gary Longwell in his stead.

Big names have regularly crashed at this seemingly innocuous Scottish hurdle.

Acidic memories still linger in Jamie Heaslip's mind when he recalls his 2007 exclusion; he featured against Scotland and many of his supporters presumed he would be bound for France.

Heaslip was omitted. Neither of Ulster pair Neil Best nor Stephen Ferris had shone against the Scots either but the Leinster man's youth and lack of versatility ultimately undid him.

Ulster star Tommy Bowe, too, would have been confident of his berth as he jousted with rugby league convert Brian Carney in what had developed into a shoot-out between the duo.

Bowe flew to France as cover for the injured Shane Horgan but that was as close as he got.

Bowe would make it four years later having firmly established himself as a world-class operator.

So when Joe Schmidt today names his side to face Scotland, one of them could yet be in for a rude awakening by the time he names his 31-man squad.

Belfast Telegraph

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