Stephen Ferris admits he faces a tough battle to regain his Ireland place despite his outstanding form of the past two seasons.
The Ulster flanker has been a revelation for province and country in the two years leading up to and following on from the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa.
Ferris has established himself as a mainstay of the national team with his all-round abilities and fearsome ball carrying but the 26-year-old believes he will have to be at his best to gain more international honours having missed the summer tour through injury.
"It wasn't nice having to drop out of Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand and Australia and it is always difficult watching someone else wearing your shirt on the international stage," said Ferris, who broke his cheekbone in a training session in early May.
"Competition for back row places in Ireland is really intense and I know I've got a fight on my hands to get back into the team.
"Dennis Leamy is back fit at Munster, Kevin McLaughlin will be back in a few weeks after shoulder surgery and now we've got Rhys Ruddock stepping into the mix along with John Muldoon.
"They're just a few of the contenders from the four Irish provinces. I have to be absolutely on top of my game to ensure I'm selected and that challenge keeps me hungry and makes sure that I am working to be the best player I can be."
But while being a spectator during the summer clearly didn’t sit comfortably with Ferris, he admits that the extra rest might do him good in the grand scheme of things, particularly with a World Cup on the horizon.
"I'm feeling really good and I got a good bit of fitness and weights under my belt last week," added Ferris.
"I'm definitely a lot fitter after a 10-week pre-season and maybe missing the summer tour will do me well in the long run over the next couple of years."