Tuesday 6 December 2016

Hooker keen for change in fortune after a year to forget

Shoulder and knee injuries leave Wicklow native hungry for first team action again

Daragh Small

Published 08/01/2016 | 02:30

Jason Harris-Wright is determined to fight his way back from injury. Photo: Sportsfile
Jason Harris-Wright is determined to fight his way back from injury. Photo: Sportsfile

Jason Harris-Wright has not played a Pro12 game since November 2014 and has only been involved in three Challenge Cup fixtures since then, but the 27-year-old has put everything on hold in order to add to his 50 Connacht caps.

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Along with Nathan White, they are the only members of the current squad who have tasted success at European Cup level. And the former Leinster hooker is determined to play a big part as Connacht push for Champions Cup status in 2016.

The Wicklow native had to watch on helplessly as his side came so close to qualification for Europe's top club competition last term. And he was delighted to get the chance to extend his stay at the Sportsground in March.

That allowed him to focus on his rehab, and the former Ireland U-20 star also deferred his final year of an online business management degree to get back into an increasingly competitive Connacht squad.

He did that, and played against Brive, and Newcastle Falcons at home and away but he hopes he can have a much bigger impact as Connacht enter the unknown territory that comes with the possibility of silverware.

"From what we have shown so far this season we have been pretty good. But there is a lot of work to do, it is nowhere near a done deal in any competition," he said.

"We don't take it for granted, we take it week by week but we definitely have the potential and the players to win a trophy. We think it's really achievable this year.

"It's important that we get our squad back healthy and everyone keeps working hard on our game in the system we have. It is definitely something that we are looking for."

It has been a long journey back to fitness for the Clontarf clubman. He was only just back on the scene when his right knee gave way in the Pro12 tie at home to Zebre last season.

The former Blackrock College student faced another desperate road to recovery - previously he had spent five months on the sidelines with a shoulder problem, but the latest physical issue also caused a strain mentally.

"I was just back, I played four games after coming back from the shoulder injury. I felt really good and things seemed to be going quite well for the team and for me personally. Then it was just a bit of a freak accident. My knee got caught in an awkward position and I did my cruciate.

Sulking

"There wasn't much you could do about it. It was frustrating and tough at times. I knew I had to pick myself up, sulking about it wasn't going to get me anywhere.

"It was tough mentally. But I got the operation done, and got back on the rehab road. Because I have had two big surgeries it gives you more time to look at your game and things you can improve on, when you are not caught up playing matches week in, week out.

"I certainly wouldn't want the injuries but it can be helpful and you improve certain little aspects in your game," he said.

Again the acclaimed Connacht return-to-perform set-up worked its wonders and Harris-Wright was back fit and ready to go by pre-season. It was a difficult few months but the contract extension helped put his mind at ease.

"It's a worrying time for any player. Your contract is up and you're out injured for the rest of the season. You get your contract by playing games and playing well. When you know you can't do that it's not in your hands.

"I had a chat to Pat and some of the other management and they told me that they wanted to keep me, and it gave me a nice peace of mind that I could go away and focus on my return."

Behind the scenes there is no rest for the walking wounded at Connacht and Harris-Wright was kept on his toes by the S&C staff, and skills coach Dave Ellis.

It has been a massive factor behind Connacht success in recent seasons and despite operating with the smallest squad in the league, and some terrible luck on the injury front, they continue to punch above their weight.

"There are a lot of different areas. First and foremost you have your medical side. You see your physios and they predict what you can do and what you can't.

"Then there's the S&C staff who take you through all of your weights and fitness, according to how your body feels and what stage you are at in your rehab.

"On top of that we were doing a skills most days, it might only be 20 or 30 minutes, with Dave Ellis. It would be different things each time, maybe passing, or some vision stuff. That keeps your rugby mind ticking. When you get back to the full-training environment you don't feel like you need a couple of weeks to catch. They expect you to slot back in and be at the level that you were before or even better.

"I came back to pre-season at the start of it. I was fully back into it with the team doing everything.

"I took a bit of a bang on the knee, in an internal game in late August. The cruciate was fine, it was just a bit of bruising and they were being cautious. I pulled back for a few weeks in training but after that it was all go.

"I have had a couple of games back now, I played a club game and an 'A' game and then the European games. It is great to be back out and involved. I have had enough time training and doing rehab, it's nice to get the reward of game-time at last."

Irish Independent

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