It's been three months since Morne Steyn rolled back the years and kicked South Africa to victory against the Lions.

For Tadhg Beirne, the wound is still raw.

The versatile forward has become one of Andy Farrell's key men in the pack in the last 12 months. It's arguable he's become the key man.

Since returning from a broken ankle in August 2020, his name has been absent from Andy Farrell's teamsheet just twice; Ireland's summer friendlies with Japan and the USA while he was in South Africa with the Lions.

His Lions experience sounds like many others we've heard about over the course of the last three months.

There's the honour of getting the call, there's the frustration of his playing time, and there's regret about the result.

While Beirne played in two of the three Tests, and scored three tries in his four warm-up games, it's reasonable to suggest that Warren Gatland didn't back him to make an impact on the big stage.

In both the first and second Test matches in Cape Town he was the last cab off the rank; seven minutes from the bench, followed by nine minutes off the bench. He watched the third test from the stands as Sam Simmonds got the nod.

"I'm always going to look back on it with a smile, it was an incredible achievement and so good to be part of," he said when asked to sum up his Lions experience.

"There's always going to be a lot of frustration at my end, though, personally I felt I had been playing quite well and I knew myself and Courtney (Lawes) were kind of head to head going into that first game.

"When I didn't get selected I couldn't really argue much because he played exceptionally well.

"The frustrating thing for me was the lack of game-time in those first two games, not getting an opportunity to put my hand up at all and then being overlooked for the last game was something that will sit with me for a while and I'll question.

"That was the team that he decided could win the series and I wasn't in it.

"It's their decision at the end of the day."

The frustration at those first and second Test box-scores may have subsided a bit more had the result been different.

"That's something to be incredibly proud, of but I would be lying if I said I’m not still quite hurting from it to be honest."

Having impressively won the first Test, the Lions were blown away a week later, before a nail-biting decider in Cape Town saw South African take the series 2-1 with a late Steyn penalty.

It's a result that's still gnawing away at Beirne.

"You come away from it and those five weeks that you're on holidays you can’t help but reflect on those games and be disappointed and be thinking of 'what if?’

"I think that’s normal for any sportsperson; everyone wants to win and I think it’s going to be a few months or maybe another year or two when I get to look back and say ‘I’m a Test-capped Lion’, and that’s something to be incredibly proud, of but I would be lying if I said I’m not still quite hurting from it to be honest."

Echoing the thoughts of Jack Conan from earlier this week, the confidence gained from the experience has been invaluable though.

"I never expected to be in the Lions squad at the start of 2021 and then to be selected in the squad and to go from there into the squad for the Test games, I pinch myself that I was there in the first place.

"It definitely gives me confidence that I managed to get there.

"But I think what gives me most confidence from the whole Lions experience is how nervous I was going into it, wondering if my ability would be….if I'd be a bit behind in training and all that kind of stuff but I felt like I fitted in well there, in what what was a good standard there and that was probably what gave me confidence coming out of it."

The only question around Beirne's selection these days is what number he wears on his back.

Equally comfortable in both the second and back row, he wisely doesn't give an answer when asked which position he feels more natural playing at.

Today, he'll partner James Ryan in the second row, keeping his fellow Lion Iain Henderson on the bench.

"I don't get to pick that," he says, diplomatically.

"Look, there’s an incredible amount of competition in this Ireland set-up so my goal here is to just get into that starting team as much as I can and put in performances, good enough to, one, help the team and to maintain my spot so this week is huge because there are a lot of younger players coming up behind me as well and they’ll be chomping at the bit to get an opportunity in a green jersey.

"My performances, starting on Saturday, have to be good enough for me to try to keep my position."

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