Rhys Marshall: 'Two-year deal is huge boost, now it's about getting fit for testing period'
As one of the guys fighting my way back to fitness you can feel like a bit of a spare wheel at times in these big weeks, but all hands have been put to the pump this week as we get ready for a huge couple of European weeks.
It has been a hectic ten days or so around here. The Zebre game was quickly followed by Edinburgh five days later, so it was only earlier in the week that we could draw breath. Even that was short-lived with such a huge weekend ahead.
On Tuesday the news was announced that a dozen of us would be signing new deals with the province, and it was pretty cool to be one of those guys that will be hanging around for another couple of years.
Luckily enough we had started discussions before I got injured and from my point of view it was all pretty straightforward to agree the details, but once I picked up the knock I admit I was a little bit worried.
When there was no word for about a week I was extra paranoid, but once they came back to me I had a good laugh at myself. Being handed a new two-year deal on the back of what I'd done was great, and the fact that the injury didn't concern them was a nice boost too during my comeback.
I suppose it's a good reflection of the confidence Munster Rugby has in me that they want me to be part of what they're building towards. It's actually quite a privilege to think that they want me around and I'm thrilled to be here for another few years.
Once all the bells and whistles around the contract were finished it was back to my rehab and that's been going really well. This is probably my first serious injury, and while it's not as bad as a lot of guys have experienced, it has taken me a bit of time to get used to the longer comeback.
You have a good week and then you'll have a bad day sometimes if you push a little bit too far, but by and large I'm not getting too ahead of myself. I'm still a few weeks away from returning but you want to give these type of injuries time - you don't want an issue to linger in your game.
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The medical staff are awesome here and they are keeping me focused on a couple of targets: the best case and worst case scenario of when I'll be back. It's probably going to be in between the two of those timeframes, but it's definitely something to look forward to.
At this stage I'm back running a few weeks and I scrummaged this week for the first time. I've started doing a bit of contact conditioning too, which is the toughest part of the comeback. You can run on the line as long as you like but it's when you're taking hits and getting off the ground that really tests you.
There's a few lads in the injured players' group with me who are coming towards the end of their rehab, the likes of Tommy O'Donnell and Stephen Fitzgerald give you great encouragement. Our injured crew has gotten a bit sparse in the last two or three weeks because some of the guys have gone back to full fitness and they've looked brilliant. It's great to see the boys make an impact after their comebacks.
Other than my rehab I haven't been up to much in the last weeks other than I've been stuck on my laptop writing a paper for uni back in New Zealand. Part of the project was to get out and meet some farmers and see what they do, and how they do things differently here to back home. There's some genius ideas that these guys have and chatting with them was certainly a lot more interesting than the commerce paper I had to do last term.
On the field the boys certainly passed their test last weekend against Edinburgh and it was good to see everyone come back from Irish camp and slot back in so smoothly. As we know from playing Edinburgh a few times last year, you have to get on top of them from the start.
We were excellent in the first half and we had a couple of calls go our way in the second-half - it could have been a very different game because we had taken our foot off their throat and it turned into a real battle, which was disappointing. But we are ecstatic with the way the first-half went and there's lots of things we can still tweak up ahead of Europe.
Europe is another step up and we have to remember that. At the start of the year we identified this ten-week block as being crucial for our season. The back-to-back games in Europe are followed by the inter-pros at Christmas and we want to be in good shape in both competitions at the start of 2019. The best you can hope for is a home semi-final in this competition and we can put ourselves in a good position to achieve that now in the next couple of weeks - it's crucial to be top of your pool if you can.
One thing is for sure; this game against Castres will be really tough. I played against them in the drawn game there last year and it was one of the toughest games of the season.
I had a couple of mates playing there last season - Mama Vaipulu is still there and will be back from suspension for the game, while Eric Sione has moved on - but they both said how important the drawn game was in their progression. They took a few key learnings from the game and after speaking to them after they won the Top 14 they said that was a turning point in their campaign.
Winning their domestic league will have given Castres huge confidence and as a result I'm sure they've kicked on to a new level this season. We're really expecting a huge couple of weeks and any win will be really hard earned.