'The lads are all doing well so there is plenty of competition'
Injuries have seen powerful centre slip down pecking order but Peter Robb is ready to take his chance
An innocuous hip injury cost Peter Robb 11 months on the sidelines but now he is ready to fight for his place in a star-studded Connacht midfield.
Bundee Aki continues to light up the Sportsground and now the Aviva Stadium, while Tom Farrell has become a mainstay in the centre channel, but there are plenty of other midfielders waiting for their opportunity to impress.
Robb was a 66th-minute replacement in Connacht's famous PRO12 final victory over Leinster at Murrayfield in May 2016, but a troublesome hip joint flared up away to Toulouse last January and he has had start from scratch and prove himself in front of a new coach.
He was a key performer for Connacht en route to that memorable victory. In total, he made 12 league appearances in what was his debut season and another five in Europe and he looked to be head of the queue to fill the No 12 shirt when Robbie Henshaw headed east.
But after injury, the 23-year-old Dubliner has had to put in the hard work off the field instead, and after he returned to action for the Connacht Eagles against Richmond in the B&I Cup before Christmas, Robb is determined to earn his place all over again.
"I got two games in against Richmond in December. They were my first couple of games in a long time, and it was really nice to be back on the park," says Robb.
"We have a tough schedule at the moment and all of the lads are playing well. I won't be able to just step right back in but hopefully if I get a few chances I can take them. The lads are doing really well, Tom Farrell, Bundee and Pita Ahki are all on top of their game.
"There are other lads as well with Eoin Griffin and Craig Ronaldson who are also knocking on the door. There are five or six lads who could easily start week in, week out so there is plenty of competition.
"I tried to stay involved as much as I could when I was out. I was doing a good bit of video work and keeping the skills ticking over with a few of the lads, static work and ball-handling.
"I was just trying to keep on top of all of that, stay involved and clued in and hopefully that will pay off now."
Robb's hip problems began as far back as October 2016 when Connacht were the reigning PRO12 champions, and he was aiming to fill the boots of Robbie Henshaw, who had switched allegiances to Leinster.
"It was a training session during the week just before we played Ulster, I was due to play at the weekend but I pulled out of training on a Tuesday and I didn't think much of it at the time. I thought it might only be a couple of weeks' job but it dragged on and on," Robb says.
restricting "The hip was holding me back from the double days of training. I was restricting what I was doing and I had to manage my load the whole time."
The Old Belvedere clubman made eight appearances between the league and Europe in 2016-'17 before disaster struck in that 19-10 defeat at Stade Ernest Wallon on January 22 last year.
Robb was out of action with a labral tear and missed the rest of the season before he eventually went for surgery in London, where he also fixed an outstanding cartilage issue.
"It was troubling me for a long time before that. I tried to rehab it over the summer and opted for surgery in September. I got it all sorted. It wasn't too long since the surgery and getting on the pitch again," adds Robb.
"It had bothered me a good bit for pre-season. I could keep playing or get it sorted. It was the right time to get it done at the start of the season. It would have been bothering me and I would have had to get it done anyway so I'm just glad to have it over now."
After almost a year of hard work away from game-time, Robb was back on the pitch for the Connacht Eagles as they shocked Richmond 38-17 at the Athletic Ground on December 9.
And he was back in Stillorgan where he got to experience Christmas with his family before he focuses completely on the task at hand with Connacht.
"It was nice to come home to Dublin. We just had the close family around to the house. We had the Christmas dinner at home and I saw a few of the cousins," adds Robb. "It was nice to put the feet up for a couple of days and to have a few days off."
It's a huge opportunity for Robb to stake his claim for inclusion in the Connacht squad before Aki takes his likely berth in the Ireland set-up for the Six Nations.
It could be over 12 months since his injury before Robb steps out on the field for the Connacht seniors once again but he is thrilled to just have that chance.
He was part of the team that claimed the only ever piece of silverware in Connacht's history, and wants to help them on their way to European success this term.
Kieran Keane's side are poised for a home quarter-final place in the Challenge Cup, and Robb knows they are improving all of the time, ahead of their Guinness PRO14 inter-provincial derby with Munster.
"We have really come on in the last six or seven weeks. We went through a tough patch when we lost to Zebre and all of that. But the lads have really hit back now and we are looking forward to what lies ahead," adds Robb.
"We are targeting doing really well in the Challenge Cup. We have gone almost flawlessly so far so there is a big opportunity for silverware this year."