Andrew Trimble out to impress Joe Schmidt and earn World Cup call
Having overcome the toe injury which has kept him out of action since October last year, Andrew Trimble has a new battle on his hands - claiming a place in Joe Schmidt's 31-man World Cup squad.
With a four-Test warm-up series commencing this Saturday against Wales, the Ulster wing knows that eye-catching performances in the upcoming games will go a long way to securing one of the coveted back-three places.
Trimble, opposite Dave Kearney, starred during the 2014 Six Nations but hasn't worn green since that summer's tour to Argentina, while Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Luke Fitzgerald and Craig Gilroy have all started Tests out wide since.
That sextet, along with Leinster's Fergus McFadden and Munster's Felix Jones, are competing for what is likely to be just four spots and Trimble notes that the strength in depth means that any chance over the next month must be seized.
"Everyone has the World Cup on their mind but everyone wants to get on the plane first," said the man who appeared in both the 2007 and 2011 tournaments.
"I think it's about going out and hitting the ground running. I don't think we're describing the games as warm-ups, they're Test matches. Wales are going to be in unbelievable shape. They'll be a handful.
"At the Millennium Stadium, roof closed, packed house, I think it's going to be an unbelievable occasion. Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to play and that's Test match rugby.
"If you can't compete at that level, you're not going to be able to compete at the World Cup. It's sink or swim."
With only two free weekends between now and Ireland's opener against Canada on September 19, the trip to Cardiff brings an end to what has been an exhaustive series of training camps geared towards increasing player fitness ahead of a demanding World Cup schedule.
For Trimble, given his lack of match practice over the last nine months, the extra conditioning sessions have proven especially taxing despite suffering no ill-effects from his toe injury.
"I didn't get an operation on my lungs and they don't seem to be working quite so good," joked the 30-year-old who became a father for the first time over the summer.
"Just the training, the amount of running, the physicality, hitting bags, changing direction, the accelerations are all taking their toll, and it's been tough, but we've given ourselves a great chance of being in really good shape and we've got no excuse.
"The sessions have been really tough; especially the open session down in Cork.
"That Tuesday and Wednesday, Joe was cracking the whip and being as vocal as he always is. It's probably one of the toughest rugby sessions I've ever done, never mind the conditioning sessions."
The intensity is not the only thing that has struck the 57-times-capped Coleraine man who has also noticed a marked increase in standard since his last time in camp.
"I think our strength in depth has improved loads," he said. "Joe is so concerned about the patterns, the team and the game plan. Everybody knows their role and everyone buys into that. The strength in depth comes when people can slot in and do the same role.
"We do so much work as a squad of 45, the standard is through the roof and that's a lot bigger than the training squad you would have for the Six Nations.
Whether you have to go down that far I don't know, but the standard is high. I haven't been a part of it for so long to see the progression so I can see the difference between Argentina last year and now.
"There is a massive improvement in standard and then it's just about improving my standard to match that."
Under the watchful eye of Schmidt, Trimble will know that his dream of a third World Cup depends on it.
International: Millennium Stadium, Wales v Ireland, Saturday 2.30 pm