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Why James Hume’s Ireland debut means Ulster star’s five-year plan is working out to perfection

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Big hand: James Hume is thrilled that his five-year plan is on track. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Big hand: James Hume is thrilled that his five-year plan is on track. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Nick Timoney. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Nick Timoney. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

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Big hand: James Hume is thrilled that his five-year plan is on track. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

When asked to describe his character, Ireland’s latest No.13 James Hume reflected that he is “confident but not cocky”.

Such was the self-assurance required from the 22-year-old when in his earliest days as a professional rugby player he plotted out the goals for these first years with his then schoolboy coach Dan Soper.

In previous interviews, the RBAI Schools’ Cup winner has revealed that he had always targeted becoming the northern province’s outside centre by this season.

Having achieved that goal with a stellar string of performances through this most strange of campaigns, was his ascension to the Ireland ranks for tonight’s clash with USA ahead of schedule?

“Sopes (Soper) messaged me yesterday to say we’re on track,” he laughed. “I think year five was getting the Ireland cap, so we’re spot on… fingers crossed that nothing happens for the weekend!

“I think it (was) a pretty realistic five-year plan but it’s not even something I would have thought about at the time until I came back in after lockdown there and Sopes said to me, ‘This is your chance to push on and take that 13 jersey, and push on from there’ and it’s kind of worked out.”

Looking back, lockdown was a central stage of Hume’s development as a player. For as accomplished as he has looked in the northern province’s midfield this year, he places the key to his emergence back in August on an increased focus on his mental approach.

“I did a couple of press conferences before with Ulster, talking about how over lockdown I really tried to focus on what I was actually doing and not just drift through the seasons and just be happy with where I’m at, because unfortunately that’s how I felt when I was getting injured and stuff through those first couple of seasons with Ulster and I was just going through the motions, happy to be playing here or there.

“And then during lockdown, it was about focusing on what I really wanted to be doing. And that was starting 13 for Ulster. being a big name on the team sheet and playing for Ireland. And that’s when I kind of knuckled down, really put my head down when I came back after lockdown.

“Firstly, I wanted to get a run of games with no injuries because that was the problem before. So when I started getting over seven, eight or nine games then it gathered momentum and started to go really well. So that was a really positive side for me.”

Still, he was a somewhat surprising omission when the original Ireland squad was named last month, a likely casualty of the fact that Garry Ringrose was not a part of Warren Gatland’s plans for the British and Irish Lions.

When the Leinster centre pulled out with injury, Hume was quickly summoned and head coach Andy Farrell has spoken this week by how impressed he has been.

“There’s only so much I can control so I just had the intentions of going down, putting my best foot forward, letting them know what I’m like as a player and as a person, making a good impression, showing that I want to be there for the long run,” he said.

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“If I got capped, that’s great, if not, I wanted to be in future camps, I want to be under strong consideration in the future. So it’s an honour and it’s great to get a cap but ultimately we talk about servicing the team and I thought last week as 24th man that was something I really tried to drive in the warm-up and throughout the week, just giving boys confidence.

“I kind of had an early indication at the start of the week (that he’d be starting) but obviously it wasn’t official until Wednesday, so it was just all systems go from there.

“I had a smile inside and then focused on training, put in that good last session to really give us good momentum going into the weekend. So yeah, I’m absolutely buzzing and looking forward to it.”

And to make his debut alongside fellow Ulster new caps Nick Timoney, Robert Baloucoune and Tom O’Toole will be even more special.

“Tom, Cat (Baloucoune) and Nick to be there with me as well, I’m really close to those lads and especially over this camp as well, I feel like we’ve grown even closer. That will be great for them to be there as well.”

Indeed, he could barely have planned it any better.


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