Prop Lloyd Fairbrother is determined to ‘fly into pre-season’ after a successful comeback at the end of the campaign for the popular front rower.
The tighthead had almost a year on the sidelines after rupturing his left Achilles in May 2021.
The 30-year-old made his much-anticipated return on May 13 with a seven-minute appearance off the bench in the derby with Cardiff Rugby that he admits meant everything after a long road to recovery.
And now he has made his playing return, the Cornishman is eager to ensure the 2022/23 season is his best yet.
“It was great to get back. It was such a long-term injury, and I didn’t want it to seep into the summer and pre-season, to be still wondering,” he admitted.
“I got to nine or ten months and was running and scrummaging. I could have even got back a little bit earlier but there are so many boxes to tick.
“You get to the stage where you’ve just got to get into it and give it a go. I was close to returning for a while and maybe could have done the Ospreys, but I was ready for Cardiff and enjoyed that few minutes.
“I targeted getting back for something and I did that with the Cardiff game and then played against the Lions as well… at loosehead!
“It was just great to be back and especially at Rodney Parade in front of the fans.
“Now I can have a bit of an off season, but not too much so that I can fly into pre-season knowing that I am back.”
Fairbrother is full of praise for the backroom team and staff at Dragons and his family for the support he has had during his extended period out.
It has been a physical and emotional journey and one he has learnt a huge amount from.
“I’m lucky with Stirlo (Ben Stirling) and the medical team. The Dragons have been patient while my partner had to bear the brunt of me sapping, being down and questioning myself,” he admitted.
“With family and friends, I came to realise that I have got some good people around me that wanted me to come back and do well.
“That is important because you do doubt yourself, especially in the early stages. I am very lucky to have them.
“I suffered the injury in a scrum, it moved awkwardly, and I just put my foot back. I just felt a massive pop and there was a really big burning feeling,” he added.
“I had completely ruptured the Achilles; it had gone from top to bottom. A week later I had the operation, then there was two months in a boot, two months in a cast, then learning to walk again.
“There were times when I was in denial but then it was just a case of hard graft, getting into the rehab with mini steps. It has been a tough one, physically and emotionally.”
So, how was the first scrum back in senior rugby?
“I worked myself up for it,” smiled Fairbrother, who helped win a penalty on his first set-piece against Cardiff.
“I have been scrummaging for so many years, but it was like I was 18 again!
“The boys were brilliant, backed me up and all the hard work that I have put in, I felt stronger than before.”
Fairbrother will now aim to compete with Leon Brown and emerging Chris Coleman for a starting spot this season – a battle he is relishing.
And when then players return at the end of June to start season preparations there is no doubt who will wear the biggest smile.
“I feel fresh - I was gutted that the season ended!” said Fairbrother.
“I will have a little bit of a break, but I don’t want to blow all the hard work that I have done.
“I will take it a little bit easy, but I want to hit pre-season running. We have got some brilliant signings coming in, especially in the front row, so we will see where that takes us.
“Chrissy has been building nicely for a few years but last season I really saw him mature as a young prop,” he added.
“His understanding of the scrum and work around the pitch really came on, I have been impressed and he has gone from being an academy boy to a senior who is serious competition.
“With Leon (Brown) and me champing at the bit, competition will be fierce on the tighthead side.”
I had the operation, then there was two months in a boot, two months in a cast, then learning to walk again... It been a tough one, physically and emotionally...