No room for Andrew Trimble in Ireland squad
What now for Andrew Trimble? That is the question Ulster supporters are asking with the province's wing ace axed from yet another Ireland squad.
With New Zealander Joe Schmidt installed as head coach, northern hopes were raised that the hard, open, running football he oversaw at ASM Clermont Auvergne before perfecting it with Leinster would result in players like Trimble given their head.
The days of Declan Kidney's conservatism were over, the fans felt. Now we would see Ireland, free of fear, attacking with flair. It was tailor-made for Trimble and others like him.
That was the theory. But following yesterday's announcement of Ireland's squad of 34 for next month's three Guinness Series Tests against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand, Trimble must be wondering where exactly he is meant to have gone wrong and what the future holds, if indeed he has one on the international stage.
But it's a wholly different scenario for talismanic centre Brian O'Driscoll. Despite his most recent injury problems – a 73-minute run against Cardiff Blues at the RDS in late September is his only appearance to date this season – he is in line for his 126th Ireland cap which will take him to within two appearances of Ronan O'Gara's record.
No-one will begrudge him that, he remains a class act. But does the 34-year-old – 35 in January – warrant inclusion next month? In other words, is he fit? Time alone will tell.
But fitness was not the reason for Trimble's exclusion along with that of fellow-Ulster winger Craig Gilroy. For although that was the widespread belief when both were omitted from the list of 42 for Schmidt's first Irish training camp in mid-September, their exclusion on this second occasion suggests that the Ulster pair may not be in the new man's plans.
And yesterday, insult was added to their pain by the fact that neither merited as much as a mention among the seven players specifically named as being unavailable through injury. That appeared to confirm that the reason for their non-inclusion concerns the new coach's valuation of their ability rather than their fitness.
Gilroy's absence can perhaps be forgiven in view of the fact that he has been sidelined since suffering an ankle injury early on in the PRO12 match against Ospreys on October 4, so hopefully he will figure in future Schmidt squads.
But there was no such issue with Trimble, whose form since returning after surgery to rectify a finger injury sustained in Ulster's last-play home defeat by Glasgow Warriors on September 13 has been of his usual high standard.
He has played in Ulster's last three matches which yielded victories over Ospreys, Leicester and Montpellier, with the 50 times-capped 29-year-old scoring a great try on Saturday at Stade Yves du Manoir in the most recent outing.
Even Stephen Ferris's absence was flagged up by the IRFU as being injury-related – and he has not played since October 2012.
No, Trimble deserved – and deserves – better than the treatment he has just been subjected to.
Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall and outside-centre Darren Cave appear to have dropped down the revised Irish pecking order, too. Again, one wonders what the future holds for them at this level?
With neither Gilroy nor Trimble in the frame and Munster's Ireland and Lions wing Simon Zebo sidelined for the foreseeable future, that created a vacancy for a back three player for the series.
Schmidt's response has been to call up David Kearney, the younger brother of full-back, Rob, who is included, too. Kearney junior is one of three uncapped players Declan Kidney's successor has included – two of the trio being men with whom he worked whilst employed as Leinster's coach.
The other Leinster player is prop Jack McGrath, which means that 17 – exactly half – of Schmidt's 34 are from that province.
Munster back row forward James Coughlan is the third uncapped inclusion – one of seven from the southern-most province.
Robbie Henshaw is the sole Connacht man and ex-Leinster stand-off Jonny Sexton, now with Racing Metro 92, is the only one of the 34 not playing his rugby in Ireland.
Ulster have eight representatives – Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Dan Tuohy.
Court's recall follows outstanding performances against Leicester Montpellier in the Heineken Cup.
Last month, when he failed to make Schmidt's initial training squad, there was widespread speculation that the 32-year-old was finished as an international.
But the 32 times-capped, Brisbane-born Ulster loose-head has bounced back with a run of form making him impossible to ignore.
Moral of the story? Do not write this man off; after all, he ended up a Lion during the summer and how improbable was that?