Craig Gilroy was so wracked with nerves before Ireland’s record 46-24 victory over Argentina on Saturday that he considered driving back to Belfast.
Gilroy ran in a try and helped create three more in a dream Test debut, employing a formidable mixture of grace and power to torment the Pumas’ defence throughout.
The 21-year-old Ulster winger was the star of a scarcely believable seven-try rout of opposition famed for their belligerence.
It was a vital win that guaranteed a place among the second tier of seeds for the 2015 World Cup draw tomorrow week, ended a five-Test losing streak and afforded embattled coach Declan Kidney some breathing space.
Against a backdrop of high pressure and missing the spine of their team to injury, Ireland produced their best performance since humbling Australia at last year’s World Cup.
The magnitude of the occasion dawned on Gilroy as he battled to keep his pre-match anxiety in check.
“This was my first cap and then there was the rankings issue on top of that, so it was a huge game for Ireland,” he said.
“I was extremely nervous to the point where I thought about jumping in my car and driving back to Belfast! I was more nervous than I’d ever been.
“But I’d received loads of messages from family and friends and they said don’t put any more pressure on yourself, just be yourself and enjoy it.
“That’s what I did and it was those messages from friends and family that settled the nerves.”
The tension Gilroy felt was well hidden as he made the smoothest of transitions to Test rugby.
Just 10 minutes in he highlighted his finishing ability, taking an inside pass from Jonathan Sexton, sliding between two tacklers and evading three more for an outstanding try.
It set the tone for the rest of the afternoon as Ireland’s most dangerous runner flourished amid a feeble defensive effort from Argentina, who were playing their 12th Test since June.
The strength of the performance earned comparisons with famous Irish wingers Simon Geoghegan and Denis Hickie and even identified him as a potential bolter for next summer’s British & Irish Lions tour to Australia.
“I was eager to take my chance because who knows when it will come again,” Gilroy said.
“Past players said your first cap is special, just enjoy it. They said it just flies by and it does, but there are also moments I won’t forget.
“It felt surreal. I couldn’t believe I was there. Once you’ve had a taste of it you want more.
“Declan spoke to me after the game and congratulated me. He told me to keep my feet on ground. He was happy with me.
“This is a big confidence boost and, while I can’t get ahead of myself, it’s good to know I can perform at this level.
“I heard about the comparisons with Simon and Denis. They’re two fantastic wingers, before my time obviously.”
Gilroy had scored five tries for Ireland against the Barbarians in June and Fiji, but both games were non-cap internationals.
Upon crossing at Aviva Stadium yesterday, the new star of Irish rugby was mobbed by his team-mates - evidence of his popularity and their own relief.
“Being surrounded by the whole team just after scoring that try is a moment I’ll never forget,” he said.
“That’s the sort of moment you think about when you get into the team. It was euphoria, it was amazing.
“For my try I saw a gap and thought ‘it’s on’. The rest just happened... I couldn’t really control it. I started stepping and I was over.”