The Insider: Secret to staying injury free – don’t carry the ball
Player's Diary: Mike Ross on a week of mixed emotions
It’s great to have Sean back but slow, arduous rehab can make you feel like a waste of a dressing-room seat
This was a week of mixed emotions. On one hand, we welcomed back into the playing squad one Mr Sean O'Brien, who had a fairly rough time of it recently. On the other, we lost Richardt Strauss to what looks to be a lengthy spell of rehab from a bad hamstring tear.
Injuries are probably the toughest part of being a rugby player. I've luckily avoided any bad ones. The longest spell I've ever had on the sidelines being about four weeks, but I'm very much in the minority on that one. People ask me my secret and I tell them… “It's easy, just don't carry the ball!”
There's a bit of truth in that. If you carry the ball a lot you do tend to get hit the hardest, but a lot of it is down to pure chance. The few tastes I've had of being an injured player have made me grateful that it hasn't happened too often, as the experience is pretty rubbish.
First of all, there's the obvious discomfort and worry stemming from the injury itself. If it requires surgery, then you can look forward to days or even weeks of immobility, followed by a lengthy rehab process. During the rehab process you're generally on your own schedule by necessity, so you miss out on the camaraderie within the squad that comes from training together.
Rehab can be a slow, arduous slog and you're in doing something every day of the week. Weights that you used to throw around without a problem now seem like impossible targets. Nerve injuries are especially debilitating. In many cases you can look forward to watching those hard-earned muscles deflate like a balloon seemingly overnight. The boys of course, are extremely encouraging, but it's hard not to feel like a waste of a dressing-room seat at times.
Then of course, you're often at the matches at the weekend, sitting in the stand and staring longingly at the pitch. If you are close to the end of your spell on the sidelines, it is nearly torture to watch on as you know how close you are.
There are of course positives to an injury in the Leinster Rugby environment. You are surrounded by top medical staff and conditioners, who will do all they can to get you back as quickly as possible. There's no waiting around for an operation and your surgeons will be the very best in their fields.
In Leinster we have a highly skilled rehab specialist in Stephen Smith and he becomes your nemesis during the weeks and months that you're out, carefully monitoring your progress and making sure that you're performing the correct exercises to the best of your ability.
Sean O'Brien spent a fair bit of time with Steve, and he came back firing on all cylinders. That is not easy. As with any spell away from the game, things suffer and he lost some muscle mass and ended up looking like the U-20s version of himself!
In the intervening months however, he's really worked hard and has come back in tremendous nick. His post rehab DEXA scan (which measures fat and muscle mass) was ridiculous, with results pretty much the same
as he was pre-injury, which is unheard of. It does help that Sean shares a house with the team nutritionist Daniel Davey, who undoubtedly was a valuable aide in keeping him in shape. Unfortunately as Sean departs the waiting lounge, Straussy enters. Hopefully his stay will be short.
It was good to see him running back out on to the pitch against Edinburgh, even though the performance wasn't our greatest of the season by a long shot and we ran out narrow winners in the end to clinch top spot in the Pro12.
We were very flat as a team, and it showed in our set-piece and execution and there were a lot of frustrated bodies in the dressing-room afterwards. We know that we'll have to raise our performance levels by quite a bit against Ulster, otherwise our season will be over without anything to show for it.
Ulster have been quite unlucky in recent weeks, both on the injury and disciplinary front and they'll be desperate to finish on a high, as can be seen from the surprise result they pulled off down in Munster with a large chunk of regular first-teamers missing. With the likes of John Afoa, Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar back they'll be even more dangerous and we'll need to work very hard on Saturday to make sure we're in the final come May 31.