Paddy Wallace never quite knows what to expect in the countdown to an Irish team announcement.
Will he be in the starting 15 and if he is, where will he be playing? Will he be on the bench? Or, as has happened before, will he be deemed surplus to requirements on this occasion?
Being versatile does not necessarily weigh in a player’s favour. At times it can be positively disadvantageous. Jack of all trades — finish the line for yourself.
Wallace sees his adaptability as being a plus, however — particularly with 2011 being a World Cup season.
For while coach Declan Kidney continues to insist that the focus is on Italy alone and that Ireland will allow nothing on the distant horizon to distract them from their RBS Six Nations Championship opener against Italy at Stadio Flaminio on Saturday, everyone knows that performances between now and the autumn will determine who is — and is not — on the plane for New Zealand.
Of course there are some who, barring injury, are guaranteed a seat even now.
But Wallace is not one of those shoe-ins so in the next seven weeks he knows he has to make a strong case for inclusion.
“People think being able to play more than one position is a hindrance on you because you’re not settled in one or the other. But I’ve sat down with Declan on many occasions and we’ve talked,” he said.
“This issue comes up, but we’re very aware of things. First and foremost I’m a 12, but if I have to fill in at 10 then I’ll try to do that to the best of my ability.
“My versatility is in being able to do that, I suppose. I played all of my youth rugby at 10; in fact that’s where I played up until about six years ago.
“So I think it’s a positive, particularly in a World Cup year. There are only so many seats on the plane and if you can play more than one position you probably stand a better chance of being on that flight. Injuries do occur and if you can maybe solve the problem that creates it’s going to help you.”
His on-going involvement in Irish squads provides proof of the regard in which he is held by Kidney and company. “Yeah, I’ve been in there a long time — it’s five, six years now without missing out on squad selection so that’s reassuring,” he added. “But you’ve got to keep pushing yourself and setting yourself goals to make sure that you continue to be involved.
“But while being involved is good, what you really want is to be playing.”
He knows the importance of Ireland making a winning start on Saturday.
He also knows that despite their perfect played 10 won 10 record against the Azzurri since they entered the Championship in 2000, Italy cannot be taken lightly.
“They’re always tricky, a potential banana-skin,” Wallace warns.
“They usually win one home game a year and we just have to make sure that this weekend isn’t the occasion.
“Games against Italy are always competitive. Even in the Grand Slam year (2009) they were hugely competitive and were leading in the first-half. Thankfully we were able to score a few tries late on that put a bit of a gloss on the scoreline. But it was a hard game.
“With them being involved in the Magners League now their players are being exposed to a higher standard of rugby on a regular basis and that’s going to make them even harder to beat, especially on their home ground.
“So I think the challenge will be even greater this season and we’re going to have to be firing on all cylinders.”
He reckons Italy will start to mirror the benefits of now having two clubs in the Magners League.
“They’re playing against the Celtic teams week in, week out and they will be able to gauge themselves in those club matches,” said Wallace.
“Treviso have been very competitive this year so that will give them confidence to take on to national level.”
Treviso provide 11 members of coach Nick Mallette’s 24-strong squad for the series.
“And they have guys like Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers) and Parisse (Stade Francais) who play away from Italy so they’re going to very competitive,” warned Wallace.