It has been quite a season for Alan Quinlan and it is not over just yet. After a superb run of form during Munster’s Heineken Cup-winning campaign, the Tipperary man has a deserved chance to add to his Ireland caps tally on the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia.
With the competition for back row places in the Ireland team so consistently fierce, Alan Quinlan’s chances in the green jersey have been limited in recent seasons to summer tours and friendly matches.
Stuck on 25 caps since last August’s warm-up defeat to Scotland, Quinlan gained selection for the World Cup but failed to get any pitch-time. He was also part of Ireland’s Six Nations training squad yet could not force his way into any of the matchday 22s.
Now, having arguably been the best blindside flanker in Europe this season, the 33-year-old is ready to make up for lost time with Ireland.
He admits he is honoured to be preparing with the Ireland squad for next Saturday’s Test match against the All Blacks.
“It’s the life of a professional player, isn’t it?”, he replies when asked if it was difficult to cut short Munster’s European celebrations and head Down Under.
“For any of us picked here after the success of Munster we’re delighted to be on tour. It means you are doing something well and to be picked for Ireland is a great honour.
“I’m sure for the new players coming into the All Blacks set-up, when those guys get an opportunity to put on the jersey, they will very proud as well. We’re no different.
“Hopefully, we can get the confidence and the performances of the provincial teams together on Saturday and bring us forward,” he added.
“It’s going to be a difficult game, it always is against New Zealand. That’s the reality of it when you play the All Blacks home or away. It’s always a massive game.”
Quinlan would dearly love to get a crack at the men in black this weekend. He played against them once before, coming on as a replacement in the second Test in Auckland in June 2002.
The Munster flanker was sin-binned for an innocuous challenge at a ruck in that game and during his time off the pitch, New Zealand scored two tries to finish out as 40-8 winners.
Things were a lot tighter on the 2006 tour when Ireland suffered an unfortunate 34-24 reversal in Hamilton and a week later in Auckland, the All Blacks also had to strike late for a 27-17 success.
Noting that those previous experiences will stand to them, Quinlan added: “The core group of players have experienced those two Test matches in 2006. We did a lot of things right in both those games but came up short in both of them.
“We’ve probably learned that to get one over on the All Blacks we have to put in a massive, massive performance and get a lot of stuff right.”
Delighted to have had a ‘relatively injury-free season’, Quinlan points to the success of Munster in Europe and Leinster in the Magners League as having boosted confidence levels in the Irish squad after what has been a difficult season internationally.
“The success of the provinces gave us a bit of confidence and a bit of belief that Irish rugby isn’t all that bad and you have to put up with the good times and the bad times,” he said.
“Certainly it was a difficult year to be involved with Ireland but it was nice to do well with the provinces. That gives us a spring in our step after a long hard season.”
Now eyeing up Ireland’s first ever win over New Zealand, Quinlan reckons this is a good chance for the men in green to make history and end a run of 19 defeats and one draw against the All Blacks.
“The mentality changed in Irish rugby a couple of years ago. We didn’t believe that we could win these kind of games,” he said, looking forward to the Wellington encounter.
“It’s a hard one because the All Blacks will always be favourites when they play Ireland. But we play every game to win and Saturday will be no different.
“We’ll certainly try our best to win the game but I think we want to try to get a good performance. You need a lot of luck when you play New Zealand, especially away from home.
“As a team we need a lot of things to go our way. But there is a confidence and a belief within Irish players in the last number of years that if we play to our potential, we certainly have a good chance.”