ANYONE who has watched Darcy Graham fearlessly challenge for a high ball or accelerate into contact against players almost twice his size will likely have asked themselves at some point whether the diminutive winger has a screw loose.
As it happens, for most of the last year a screw had indeed been causing Graham problems – in his knee – which left him feeling like he wasn’t able to train to his peak level, with an inevitable knock-on effect on his form on match-days.
Given that he scored an impressive 12 tries in 12 matches between returning last March from the original surgery on his knee to the end of Scotland’s World Cup campaign in early October, you can’t help but wonder how electrifying the 26-year-old can be when he has a chance to play pain free?
That’s a question the Hawick man is hoping to answer over the next few months after using his lay-off with a hip injury suffered against Ireland in Scotland’s final World Cup pool match as an opportunity to undergo tidy-up surgery on that troublesome leg joint.
“My knee had been giving me bother for over a year,” explained Graham, speaking after making his comeback for Edinburgh as a ninth minute replacement for the concussed Harry Paterson during Saturday afternoon’s 34-21 win over Castres at the Hive Stadium.
“It didn’t affect me in games, it was more training-wise. I was so sore and it took me a lot to get warmed up and I found training quite hard. If you don’t train to full intensity, especially in the World Cup, you don’t get the best out of of yourself. Even here at club level, if you don’t train at 100 percent you can’t kick on. So, yes, it probably did affect me [during the World Cup].
“I wouldn’t say I was any worse than I had been. I was average. I had more in me but I was not at my worst. I had been carrying that knee pain for eleven months so it was always going to affect me.
“As soon as I got onto medication and painkillers I was fine, I didn’t feel it, but that was the reason we decided to take the screw out. I couldn’t live on painkillers and medication all the time.
“I was killing two birds with one stone because I knew my hip would be a while [to heal] so I got my knee sorted out at the same time,” he added.
“I got the screw taken out and that allows me to run more freely now. I am not in constant pain anymore. I can walk up stairs now and not be in pain. I don’t wake up in the middle of night feeling sore any more. My overall life is a lot better.”
The screw was approximately an inch long and now resides in Graham’s bedroom as a memento. With no replacement screw required, he promises that the joint is now as strong as it was before the original injury, and adds that he is ready to throw himself headfirst into building up his match fitness over the next month leading up to the start of the Six Nations in early February.
“They put a fake MCL in over the top to give my real MCL [medial collateral ligament] time to heal,” he explained. “So, when they took the fake MCL and screw out my normal MCL had healed fully. It is solid as a rock now. Everything is fine. Back to normal.
“It was my hip that held me back [from returning to action earlier this season]. It was not quite right even three weeks ago and we had to inject it, so that pushed me back a bit as my plan was to play in the Ulster game [a fortnight ago].
“I just need to get back to full match fitness now and working hard at training. There are a few boys like Harry Paterson, Duhan van der Merwe, Wes Goosen all playing unbelievable rugby right now so there is real pressure there to prove myself.
“Minutes are key for me just now, I need to get them in with the Six Nations just round the corner, and the two big Glasgow games coming up, so I am glad I got that run out [on Friday]. I felt sharp enough but didn’t get much ball in hand as the wind made it difficult, especially when we were playing into it. I am just glad to be out on the pitch with the boys as it feels like forever since I was last here.”