A 45-MATCH absence from competitive professional rugby finally comes to an end for Ben Cairns tonight when the international centre lines up for Edinburgh against Racing Metro in the Heineken European Cup at Murrayfield.
Cairns’s last appearance in a league or cup match was against now defunct Aironi on April 15 last year, but a grim determination allied to a constantly buoyant outlook has seen him win the battle with knee ligament damage.
“It has been small steps all the way through so that I now feel ready to go again,” said Cairns who suffered a setback four months into his original rehab having acquired his original injury in a pre-season friendly.
While there is no suggestion that Cairns has been rushed back, it is the case that his return to Edinburgh ranks comes a week after one club outing – a 68-minute appearance for Melrose at Nottingham in the British and Irish Cup.
“This is where I feel I belong and I have a good record in the Heineken Cup,” said Cairns, who is Edinburgh’s joint top try-scorer with nine alongside the now retired Chris Paterson. He added: “I am not expecting miracles, but I am really glad to get the opportunity to show I can perform.”
The timing of Cairns’s comeback means that he is a string of good displays away from putting his hat into the ring for a ninth Scotland cap having been ignored throughout the Andy Robinson coaching era.
However, in making it plain that priority is to re-establish himself with Edinburgh, the 27-year-old insists: “I never, ever felt that I wasn’t going to come back and if it was tough to be sidelined watching Edinburgh reach the semis last year it is amazing how your perspective changes when you start running again after coming through the operation.
“You start off on crutches then get back on the pitch and, from there, progress from running in straight lines to agility exercises. The momentum builds from there.”
Having failed to score a try in this year’s tournament, Edinburgh will be hoping that Cairns can break that duck.