Sunday 22 April 2018

Tighthead eyes No 3 shirt again after latest injury blow

Cork prop keen as ever to play his part as end of injury lay-off approaches in coming weeks

'It's very hard watching when you are not involved,' says injured prop Stephen Archer (SPORTSFILE)
'It's very hard watching when you are not involved,' says injured prop Stephen Archer (SPORTSFILE)

Daragh Small

Munster tighthead Stephen Archer is what they call the eternal optimist. And when injury strikes, and it often can, rugby players must realise negativity will only impede the healing process.

Theoretically, it was a career-threatening injury, when he suffered a prolapsed disc and trapped nerve following a crunch tackle in Munster's 23-21 victory over reigning Pro12 champions Glasgow last October.

But the 28-year-old Corkonian reflects on it as just another hit, and one he got wrong. They call it a schoolboy error when a player tackles with their head on the wrong side, and that was the view that Archer took.

The hit was 'innocuous' and he didn't automatically leave the field, but gradually the pain intensified and he was replaced by BJ Botha in the 51st minute.

Still the adrenaline flowed, and little did Archer know that would be his last bit of competitive action until March - if the rest of the rehab goes as planned.

Archer saw the same surgeon that saved Brian O'Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald's careers, Ashley Poyton in the Mater Private, and after the successful operation he got back on the road to recovery straight away.

"When you are out with a neck injury things like that will cross your mind, but I didn't really fear for my career. It is not a thing I would usually think about. I think about the next day, the next step, what you are doing down the road.

"That's why the lads have been so good, the Strength and Conditioning coaches especially, because they keep you busy. After two or three weeks from the surgery I was back on the bike ripping into time trials and that keeps you going, little targets.

"You are back, a few weeks later doing weights. Then it all kicks in and before you know it you are halfway there, counting down the time. I try not to get too deep about these things. Obviously with a neck injury it is always in the back of your mind. But there's no point in dwelling too much on those things. You just have to concentrate on the next day and the next challenge."

Archer has been capped twice for Ireland and the next for Munster will be his 100th competitive appearance, but he never expected to wait so long for the century. Physically he is tough, but with the likes of Peter O'Mahony and John Madigan for company, it really helped the mental side of things too.


They both suffered long-term injuries and continued their rehab alongside the Douglas native. And with their banter, and his two young kids keeping busy at home, there was no time to dwell.

However, he could not bear seeing his team-mates slump out of the Champions Cup. As he watched the meticulous preparation off the pitch, it was difficult to take the defeats.

"It's very hard watching when you are not involved. At meetings during the weeks, and seeing how hard they were preparing and it just wasn't clicking. And I could see how they were taking it.

"It was tough watching it from the stands. Some people would be saying, 'Not a bad time to be injured, you're not missing much'. But it's tough when the lads are trying their heart out and you are sitting there watching on when it doesn't quite work out.

"It was tough watching over Christmas especially. There was one match, the Leicester match, I found that especially difficult to watch. It was a big match in Thomond Park and I would have loved to have played in that."

In his absence BJ Botha took up the mantle again, before injury struck him down too. And now there is a straight shoot-out between John Ryan and Mario Sagario for the coveted No 3 jersey.

When Archer returns he will provide even more competition, and he cannot wait to be back out there. But there is still plenty of work to go in before he is turning out against some of the Pro12's best looseheads.

"John Ryan has gone very well, he has got good game-time and I think he has done very well. Mario as well has come in, and done a great job too. He's a good guy.

"I am looking forward to being back, but I am just looking forward to getting back training first. I haven't hit a scrum yet so there's not much I can say. I just want to get back doing a bit. I'll need to stick at it and get a few runs."

Having played a couple of times for his country, and with fellow Cork man Mike Ross in the twilight of his Irish career, the tighthead position is there to fight for.

Nevertheless, after a blistering end to 2014-'15, Archer must replicate that to get into Joe Schmidt's reckoning for the summer tour to South Africa.

"At the start of the year I was coming off the back end of last season, when it all worked out really well for me.

"I was happy with how things were going, but the thing was I got injured at a bad time at the start of the season.

"I was hoping to kick on from the end of last year and that Emerging tour went well for me. I was hoping to build on that. I wanted to build on that but with the way rugby goes, injury is just around the corner at all times. I want to be playing. I'm not a great supporter in the stands. I find it hard to watch it sometimes. You would be jealous of lads.

"Obviously there was a couple of difficult matches, and I was in the stands pulling my hair out and trying to say nothing, but I look forward to getting back now."

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