D'Arcy not about to fluff his Lions opportunity this time

Fri, Jun 5, 2009, 01:00

GORDON D’ARCY completed one of the truly great comebacks of modern-day rugby when linking up with the Lions in South Africa yesterday. Now, following Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 61 years and Leinster’s first Heineken Cup, comes an opportunity to put to rights what D’Arcy believes was an inaccurate interpretation of how his Lions tour ended four years ago.

Prior to boarding a flight for South Africa, D’Arcy joked about the fact he had been in the gym a few hours before receiving the phone call to link up with the Lions.

“While I’d hoped to make the original squad I don’t feel that the honour is in any way lessened by being called up in this manner,” said a delighted D’Arcy, for whom this completes a remarkable turnaround. Having been sidelined for almost 11 months with a broken arm which required three operations, this time a year ago he admits he was worried about his long-term future in the game.

D’Arcy initially sustained the injury against Italy in Croke Park on February 2nd last year, and only returned to action on December 27th when playing on the wing in Leinster’s win away to Ulster.

Despite scoring a try in his Test comeback in the opening Six Nations win over France, he remained a replacement in the victories over Italy and England before having starting and starring roles in the Grand Slam-clinching wins over Scotland and Wales. Then came his opening try in the Heineken Cup semi-final win over Munster and Leinster reaching their holy grail in the final in Edinburgh.

“It just shows you how dramatically things can turn around,” he commented. “In the same way as you can be on an absolute high as a player and get an injury that can rule you out for six months or a year, it can happen in reverse. I had to earn my place back in the Leinster team, and then the Irish team. Then there was the Grand Slam, then the Heineken Cup and now the Lions. So things have gone full circle from the pits of despair to now achieving everything and anything in a season that any player would want to achieve.”

Nevertheless, the fear the Lions squad announcement might just come too early for him was compounded by a widely-held perception that he had dirtied his bib irretrievably with the Lions four years ago.

Upon announcing his Lions team and replacements for the third Test, dead rubber against the All Blacks in Auckland, Clive Woodward said D’Arcy had ruled himself out of consideration for the match on the grounds he was too exhausted. There had even been suggestions D’Arcy ought not to be picked for the Lions again after that.

Asked about this, D’Arcy admitted: “I was deeply disappointed that any rugby player, whatever about commentators or pundits, and particularly former British and Irish Lions, might suggest I would have chosen not to play in a Test match for the Lions because I was exhausted or suffering from exhaustion. That’s just nonsensical.

“I have to admit I was upset by it. Unfortunately the spin that was put on what occurred has ensured that certain people believed that,” said D’Arcy, who was adamant he had never, ever declined to play in a rugby match unless genuinely injured or unavailable.

Clearly irritated that a certain perception had gathered legs, D’Arcy added: “I know the truth of what happened but I want to put the matter to rest and there’s no better way of doing that than having the opportunity to play for the Lions again.”

D’Arcy was troubled by a shoulder injury towards the end of that Lions’ tour to New Zealand and, following an operation after his return to Ireland, he did not reappear on a rugby pitch until October 10th.