Ah, the life of an injured rugby jock. I remember, many moons ago, actually rather enjoying the bit of time off a freshly broken hand had afforded me. It wasn't that I didn't care about missing games; it was, in fact, because I had played so many. I was a young prop and my body badly needed a rest and, in an almost charitable twist of fate, Steve Thompson's right boot landed heavily on said mitt (by accident, honest guv) and that was that, the crack said it all.
"Two weeks of aggressive rest," barked the consultant. "That, I can do, Doc," I replied, of course disappointed that I would be out of action but also calm in the knowledge that the upcoming weeks would prove valuable in the long run.
So for 14 days I got out of bed when I wanted, cruised to the local café for a spot of breakfast before making my way to the club for lunch and using that social time to decide which restaurant's profit margins would benefit from my generous appetite that evening. It appeared that this lifestyle – where every movement is calculated with the next meal in mind – really suited me. Funny that.
It's a bit different these days. The invalids are up early and in the gym first, leaving those more immediately valuable to sleep a while longer. And we are flogged. Religiously. We are first in and last out and there is no day off on our schedule. If you can't run, you're put on the bike. If you can't lift weights with one of your legs, you do twice as many on the other side. "Good morning, chaps," says our former cage fighter and rehabilitation specialist. "Well, I say good morning, it's not gonna be." It's always nice to start the working day with an ominous statement of intent.
You see, being injured at this club is not meant to be comfortable. The idea is to make players want nothing less – to make it an environment from which we all work tirelessly to escape. And guess what, it works. On Tuesday, after an early morning weights session, I was given the equivalent of a mountain stage of the Tour de France to complete while the fully-fit sipped coffee upstairs. At the end of it, even the gym staff were laughing at me. "Didn't think those bikes went uphill, mate," piped the newest recruit. Had I not been on the verge of vomiting on his recently buffed gym floor, I would have shot back some cutting, considered riposte but, instead, all I managed was a weak glare and a wobbly walk.
After lunch, thinking my day was all but done, said coach dripped another droplet of goodness into my day: "Big afternoon for you mate, don't eat too much." When at the training ground later on, I enquired as to what adventures he might have planned. Climbing a few trees perhaps, or maybe an hour spent filling the boys' kit bags up with shower gel? No. "See that sled with all that weight on it?" he said, "you're going to pull it to the other side of the field. Then you're going to pull it back again." "How many times?" I asked. "None of your business," he replied. In all I only had to pull the loaded sled for about a kilometre through the West Country mud but, trust me, by the last repetition my legs were begging for oxygen and my mind was searching for a happy place. And to think, I'd always thought Sir Ranulph Fiennes milked it a bit.
So with all the fun over, it was into the hot bath with only a protein shake for company. Yes it had been a tiring day but actually it had been a great one. Being unavailable to play is a horrid feeling but what a bit of graft does is dilute somewhat that feeling of impotence. If you see injury as a chance to make gains elsewhere then it can still be a constructive period of your season, just a less visible one. My knock is only a very short-term one so, this time, I am lucky, but one thing is for sure; I'll be glad to be fit again. Not only will I get the chance to play again but I might actually get a bit of rest here and there, too. How the game has changed...