Ready to stake claim after long road back from injury
Returning hooker hails Connacht's innovative approach to rehab as he sets sights on No 2 shirt
It must come as a huge relief to everyone involved in the Connacht set-up to see Jason Harris-Wright be so close to a return to action.
Fellow hooker Sean Henry's cruciate ligament injury two weeks ago was a huge blow to the side, and with Harris-Wright coming to the end of his five months out with a dislocated shoulder, the temptation must have been briefly there to hasten his comeback. However, after a faultless rehab and pre-season, the Wicklow native is keen to dot the i's and cross the t's before his season debut.
It seems perverse to say it, but the setback couldn't have come at a better time for him. He picked up the injury 53 minutes into the second last game of last season, against Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground, so to date all he has missed is four games.
Yet, he still feels as if he is missing out, and after three team victories to open the season, he is ready to get some winning game time to his name.
"Obviously I would love to have been back sooner that this. When I first got injured I was plotting when I thought I would back. I saw the Leinster game and I thought that would be the one but it wasn't to be," he says.
"It has been over four months now and a lot of hard work has been done. So it would be silly to push it for the sake of a week or two and put me back to square one. The S & C and medical team are pretty sensible and taking the right amount of time and making sure I am perfect for when I get back.
"But overall it's good, it has gone really well. I am a couple of weeks away now and I am back doing pretty much everything. I am back in the rugby sessions now. It is just the contact that I have to step up in the next few weeks but the shoulder has healed really and I am feeling really good now, so it is positive."
While he has been waiting anxiously to get back into the heavy field work with his team-mates, Harris-Wright has been kept busy. The day we spoke was the hooker's 26th birthday - and the day of Connacht's win over his native Leinster - but celebrations were far from his mind. The treat was a meal with his girlfriend, but the rest of the day went to getting himself back in shape for rugby.
"We had a really tough day. We did upper-body weights in the morning. Then we did running and conditioning on the pitch and afterwards we had a 'strongman' in the afternoon which was pretty tough as well," he explains.
"They like to leave nothing in the tank come Friday because they know you are getting your two days off then.
"The strongman is rough. It was pushing the sleds, down-ups, hitting tackle bags, down-ups in between spider crawls, and another one called get-ups where you have to get off the ground with a heavy ball without your hands. We did about a half an hour of all that and it was tough, but it's all about getting back."
Last year, one of Pat Lam's first acts was to make every player buy their own rugby ball, which they had to carry around at all times in an effort to improve their handling. This management team has become well known for taking alternative angles of approaching tasks, so the injured players were delighted to embrace Dave Ellis' plan to improve their peripheral vision.
"We have a skills group after every weight session for 20 minutes every day. Dave Ellis is our skills coach and he is really good. We do a lot of peripheral vision stuff.
"During a passing drill he might be showing different colour cards and firing questions at you. You might have to tell him the colours of cards while you are doing your passing or how many fingers is holding up. Sometimes we have to wear an eye patch during it and things like that to improve your vision.
"When you think about it, it's pretty relevant to looking up and seeing what is in front of you when you are playing and passing and stuff like that. So it is really good for us injured guys to be doing that. And when we do get back in the teams you are pretty sharp to go.
"It's definitely made a massive difference. Usually when you come back off an injury you find it takes you a little bit of time to get your rhythm back. But we have been doing so much of it every day, you have that sharpness and passing and confidence as well."
The shoulder dislocation in May meant that the anticipated chance at the Emerging Ireland summer tour disappeared from Harris-Wright's radar, but now his ambitions are a lot closer to home.
He'll do battle with Dave Heffernan and youngsters Shane Delahunt and Jack Dineen for time in the Connacht No 2 jersey for the year, and if that goes well, he's happy to see what happens then.
"Obviously the main aim for me is just to get back playing and get a couple of games under my belt and get to see the sort of form that I expect of myself. And once I start to see that, I would like if I could be looked at for (Ireland) A teams or something like that," he says.
"But there is a lot of hard work before that and I know myself, first things first I have to get into the Connacht team and get that jersey and start playing well.
"We have had a good start to the season, even though I think everyone knows we have not been at our best at all. It's good being able to turn those scrappy games into four points for us but we know it's a long season ahead."