Edinburgh Rugby’s Fraser McKenzie admits there were some dark days during his long injury lay-off – and now he cannot wait to make up for lost time.
The 28-year-old second-row suffered a serious neck injury in late December midway through 2015/16 and, as a result, had to write off the remainder of the season.
And while he always hoped he would play professional rugby again, the thought did cross his mind that he may have to give up for good if the problem could not be treated.
Thankfully the medics at Edinburgh provided the best treatment and now he is set to start tonight’s pre-season friendly against Newcastle Falcons at BT Murrayfield (7.35pm).
“It was a long second part of last season for me and it was very frustrating,” McKenzie recounts.
“In one of the matches just before Christmas last year I hit a ruck and I splintered one of the discs in my neck.
“I played a couple more games after that, but I was getting a lot of pain that just would not go away and that is when we discovered the extent of what had happened.
“There were no quick fixes with that injury and at the time you aren’t just thinking about rugby, but your life after rugby as well.
“It did come into my mind that I may not play again or have lasting issues and you do have to have serious conversations about that.
“However, I never fully got to a stage where I thought that I would never play again. I was always very confident, given the specialists that were involved are at the top of their game, that they would get me right.
“I then decided that I had to get things sorted properly, scrap the rest of that season and make this campaign a fresh start. I had the disc taken out of my neck and then a long period of rehab began.
“I was down and I was disappointed that I couldn’t play and give my all to the team, but sometimes you have to be selfish and say ‘I have to get myself right’. You can’t have a serious neck injury and expect to be back in the next few weeks.”
A lot of McKenzie’s recovery time was spent in the gym with fellow second-row forward Grant Gilchrist.
They will start a match together for the first time ever tonight and McKenzie believes Gilchrist is also ready to put his injury struggles behind him.
“We were seeing a lot of each other during rehab,” McKenzie joked.
“In the morning we’d both come in and do our rehab and then both do individual weight sessions. If you have somebody there that is in a similar position then you can push each other on because you don’t want them to beat you and vice versa.
“Grant is very good at encouraging his team-mates and leading them forward. He has had a bad couple of years with injury, but before that he was in the mix to be Scotland captain and I think he has the ability to hit those heights again and really push on.”
While he was on the sidelines McKenzie had to watch as Edinburgh slipped to a ninth-place finish in the Guinness PRO12.
He feels that was simply not good enough and has assured supporters that the players are determined to do better this time around.
“To me, and to the rest of the team, last season was not acceptable,” he stated.
“I think there is pressure on us heading into this season and I think that is a good thing. I wouldn’t expect to go into a season thinking it is just okay to have another year where we finish where we finish, I don’t like that attitude.
“I think we should be pushing and striving to be as far up the league as possible. I think we’ve made some really good signings who have bedded in really well.”
For tonight’s friendly, which comes after a 33-28 loss at Sale last week, a number Scotland caps are set to make their first outings of the season. Hooker Ross Ford and props Rory Sutherland and WP Nel will start the match against the English side. Back-row John Hardie is also back among the replacements ahead of the trip to Cardiff Blues in the league opener on September 3.