The Insider: Training has been intense but I'm feeling great
After the longest lay-off of my career, I'm back in contention ahead of a massive few weeks
This week finally brought the words that I've been looking for, namely, 'You're all clear to return to full training'. I've been out of commission since November 7, the longest period of my career.
The issue was a hamstring tear, high up where the tendon attaches to the bone. I'd received it trying to get out of being smashed back by two Zebre players; my foot got stuck in the ground and then pop went the hamstring.
It was fairly frustrating because it felt fine, and I ended up getting it scanned twice because of the lack of symptoms. Ultimately, though, I had to respect what the MRI said; if I pushed it I could have ripped the whole thing off, and that would have been it for me.
The past three months have been very early starts, and long intensive rehab sessions. On the plus side I had full weekends off, which was a bit odd at first but I tried to make the most of it. I took the young lad to every home game, and my barbecuing skills have really come on!
As it is, the rehab has paid off and it's feeling pretty good. Going back running was a big step, and a bit of a shock to the system at first after months of bike and rower. I've been gradually pushed up through the gears, going increasing distances at increasing speeds, so that we're confident I'd be able to handle pitch sessions. The majority of the squad were off last week, but a few of us in the injured bracket were in doing our rehab.
I ticked my last box before return to full training, namely very high speed running, or VHSR. This may sound like an oxymoron where a veteran tighthead is concerned, but it's based on your previously recorded maximum velocity from all the GPS data we collect. I was able to hit 98 per cent of my previously recorded peak speed with no ill effects, which was a major relief.
Now it's back to the final step, and that's full training. Our training is fairly intense, and there's a lot of emphasis on unstructured attack, and making the correct decisions under pressure.
We go for blocks of about three minutes continuously, and it's a lot like a fitness session. The idea is to work as hard or harder in training as you do in a match, and the GPS statistics seem to bear that out. It's been working well for us so far, and we've certainly scored a lot of tries this year, creeping up on our total in the Guinness Pro12 last year already.
On the flip side, our defence could be better, and we're conceding more tries than we'd like so that's something we'll be working on. Our line speed has been good, it's just been the accuracy in the tackle that's been a bit off. We'd the meanest defence in the Pro12 last year so we need to get back to that standard. On the whole though, we're in a good place, sitting third in the table.
We've an important group of games coming up while the international players are on Six Nations duty: Treviso away, Edinburgh at home, Dragons away and Scarlets at home. Win all four and we're going to be very well set up for a top-two finish.
We also have the small matter of a home European quarter-final against Wasps to look forward to in the Aviva Stadium on April 1. In some ways it seems a while off but it won't be long in coming around and we want to be in the best place possible before it.
This is a hugely important stretch of the season where the squad is tested to the limit. We've a lot of big shoes to fill, and it's exciting for the young players who have been waiting for the opportunity to audition for the jersey.
Many careers have blossomed on the back of getting a chance while the international players have been away, and there are also guys with points to prove who are desperately disappointed at missing out on international selection. As for myself, I'm just looking forward to getting back to playing rugby again, and getting some match fitness back.
I'm excited about the coming months, and think we've a real shot at winning some silverware this year after a few barren years. There's a lot of work to be done before that though, and for now it's time to hunker down and put our shoulders to the wheel.