'The Springboks are missing plenty of players too and are vulnerable. Let's have no excuses'
FROM THE BLINDSIDE:We woke up slightly the worse for wear courtesy of a night on the lash in Camps Bay, a suburb of Cape Town. It was the June, 2004 and Ireland had just lost a two-Test series against South Africa.
I was sharing a three-bed hotel room with Paul O’Connell and David Wallace. Most of the touring party were back in Ireland at that point.
I’ll come back to how we ended up there. What struck me then and what the three of us have occasionally spoken about since is that two days earlier, in the second Test against the Springboks at Newlands, we had each won our 21st cap.
It was a striking symmetry.
I managed just six more appearances for Ireland. Paul O’Connell has 85 and counting and David Wallace retired having racked up 72 for the national side.
It’s a source of massive regret now that I didn’t go on and win more than 27 caps. Injury, suspension and form were mitigating factors but not for a minute back then did I consider that I would only win a handful more.
I wouldn’t say I was blasé about playing for my country, far from it. I loved pulling on the green jersey but when you are younger, you rarely focus on the big picture. It’s a natural inclination.
It’s only as you get older and reach the autumn/winter of your career that you possess a sharper appreciation of what might be taken away and how much you covet it.
Maturity teaches you the value of what you hold dearest.
Securing honours at provincial level is a brilliant feeling but nothing surpasses playing for your country.
Keith Wood summed it up for me when he said that “playing for Ireland is a privilege and the greatest honour”.
I remember going to the old Lansdowne Road and dreaming of playing for Ireland. That was the pinnacle.
What players have achieved in the past in terms of Heineken Cups and what they might go on to do has to be parked for the next three weeks.
This focus is exclusively on Ireland. It can’t be any other way if the team is to be successful during the November Test series.
Ireland host South Africa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. The backdrop is problematic based on injuries to frontline players like Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Rory Best, Seán O’Brien and Stephen Ferris. That’s a third of the first-choice team.
All Blacks defeat
The memory of the 60-0 defeat to the All Blacks during the summer is still painfully raw for players, management and supporters.
Throw in precious world ranking points for the 2015 World Cup pool draw that takes place in December and you can see what’s at stake.
One man’s injury is another’s opportunity. I’d like to see the players that come in grab it with both hands. It’s about winning at all costs, playing with massive intensity, aggression, passion backed up by a huge work ethic and work rate. The result will look after itself. Let’s see those qualities on Saturday. A 9-6 victory can be every bit as fulfilling in terms of a spectacle as a game in which the ball gets plenty of air time.