Hume ready for RDS return after finding stride again

Venue: RDS, Dublin Date: Monday, 1 January Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app, plus live text commentary, report, highlights and reaction on the BBC Sport website

“I probably didn’t leave a good impression with the people down south. I don’t think they liked me after that.”

Some may feel Leinster fans are too well-heeled to hold grudges, but James Hume wonders whether some of them will view him as returning to the scene of the crime when he – hopefully – lines out for Ulster in the New Year’s derby at the RDS.

The incident in question was the nonchalant shrug he expressed two seasons ago immediately after his match-clinching breakaway try in a rare Ulster win in Dublin 4.

Some interpreted his try celebration as an arrogant act or perhaps even a message to the Ireland management, but Hume insists he was simply emoting sheer joy at Ulster’s first win in Dublin since 2014 after his best performance of the 2021-22 campaign to that point.

“A lot of people read into it and said, ‘What was that about? Was that you telling other people that you’re the best?’ I was like, ‘No… it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing’,” Hume, 25, told BBC Sport NI.

“It was the build-up to the week when we knew we hadn’t won [there] since 2014. We played well. And then that [try] at the end was such a good moment.

“I think that game was where I started finding my form that season. It was more of a relief that I played a good game and got a good try at the end.”

Hume’s form over the following weeks saw him drafted into Ireland’s 2022 Six Nations squad, as he added to his debut cap the previous summer against the USA by featuring in wins over Wales and Italy.

Selection for Ireland’s ultimately historic series win in New Zealand followed, but it was on the first match of that tour where Hume received an injury setback from which he says he has only finally regrouped from in recent months.

The centre damaged his groin in a heavy defeat by the New Zealand Maoris and the subsequent injury nightmare was to prove both physically and mentally debilitating.

“Everything was going right and I was then just expecting it to get right the next season,” Hume recalls.

“I just didn’t appreciate the scale of the injury. When you look back, that’s where all my power was from, my footwork. When you lose a lot of your strength, you just can’t do that.

“I was just playing games, expecting it to get better when it was just taking time to do it, and I was just kind of putting it to the back of my mind and trying to ignore it.

“Last year wasn’t good mentally or physically. It was very, very tough.”

Hume recovery hindered by ‘ego’

Hume says his own “ego” and refusal to accept help hindered his recovery. It was only help from Ulster Rugby’s psychologist Darren Devaney that finally enabled him to address the “bad traits” that were seriously imperilling his career.

The centre says he had fallen victim to what’s called the “chimp paradox”, the manifestations of which can involve reacting badly to what would be regarded as constructive criticism let alone the kind of direct reviews professional rugby players can expect after things go wrong on the pitch.

“Basically, there are three parts of your brain but there’s a ‘chimp’ in there that doesn’t like addressing things and reacts badly to things. That was probably what I was doing last season.

“If I was reviewing a game and there was something I didn’t like, I would choose not to address it because it would hurt my ego. That’s stuff that we worked on.”

Hume says his improved attitude allied to putting some serious work on the training field in Ulster’s pre-season has led to the resurgence in his form in recent weeks.

When Hume travelled to New Zealand with Ireland 18 months ago, his great friend and fellow Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey was not on the plane but then was called up as a replacement for his injured club colleague. His continuing excellence led to him being named in Andy Farrell’s squad for this year’s tournament in France.

“I’m a realist. I didn’t deserve to be there,” added Hume of missing out on the World Cup.

James Hume and Stuart McCloskey in action against Connacht last week

“It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t get myself to that level at the end of last season and put myself in contention for it, but I’m hoping over the next year or two I can fight my way back into the squad and get a few more caps.”

During Hume’s breakout season two years ago, McCloskey described him as “one of the best 13s in world rugby” and the 25-year-old believes he can return to that level.

“I really do. I think if I keep on this trajectory over the next year or two and get back up to reaching my full potential and playing at high levels, getting back into camp, learning from other lads like Garry Ringrose, that I can get back up there.”

But first things first, there’s work to be done against Ringrose and Co or whoever fills the Leinster shirts on New Year’s Day.

“It’s obviously a very tough fixture but we’re finding a bit of form in the last few games.

“We had three losses on the bounce but we’re very proud where the group has come from and to get those two wins [over Racing 92 and Connacht] before Christmas.

“We have a good game plan and we’re confident going down to the RDS.”

Whether he has another try-scoring celebration up his sleeve, he’s not saying.