WHEN you are as physically fit as a professional athlete, a few hours sitting around doing nothing can be pretty irritating. A whole month of enforced inactivity must therefore be tantamount to torture, and it is certainly an experience that Rory Sutherland has no wish to relive again.
The Edinburgh loosehead prop, now half a dozen games into his comeback, was out for around a year after injuring his groin just before his team’s game against Harlequins back in October 2016. The early stages of his recovery included a period of bed rest, and even now that he has put the whole experience behind him, you can sense that the memory of those times remains painful.
“It was in the warm-up,” he explained when asked how the injury had occurred shortly before he was due to play in the Challenge Cup game. “I went out and had warmed up for maybe five or 10 minutes. We do a couple of sprints just to get some air into the lungs, and when I took off my adductor just pinged off the bone.
“It was a week before I got a check-up down in London. After that, I had my operation a week later. After the operation I was bed-bound for a good month. I then got a really bad infection [at the site of the injury], so I had to go back down again for another checkup. They repaired that, but I was in bed for another couple of months. After that, it was just slowly building into rehab, doing longer sessions, gym work and then taking baby steps into running. It was a long process, just building up to fitness.
“Full credit to the doctors and physios who got me through it. It was a hard time for me coming through rehab, but they kept me going. The lads were very supportive of me every day when I was in and around the club, and that helped. There were tough days, but generally the atmosphere has been good.”
It was not only Sutherland’s team-mates who boosted his morale during the long, slow struggle towards recovery: his partner was just as important, helping him as well as doing the work of looking after their two young sons. “I couldn’t have got through that time without my girlfriend,” he continued. “She was getting up in the morning and seeing to the kids and then having to come and see to me afterwards to get me up out of bed. It was a tough two months.
“It was hard on the kids. Really hard on the family. It was very frustrating for everybody, because they’re too young to understand. It was frustrating, but we got through it.
“Right now I feel really good. Obviously, it has been a long and frustrating year for me, but I feel really good. My groin is good now, so I’m back to full fitness.”
Edinburgh have not had their troubles to seek in the front row over the past year and a bit, and even now Alasdair Dickinson and Allan Dell are on the injured list. In their absence, and that of Sutherland, Darryl Marfo has not only joined the club and started to make an impact in the PRO14, he has also made his Scotland debut. That makes four international looseheads, which will produce serious competition for places once everyone is fit again.
“All credit to Darryl,” Sutherland added. “But that’s something to give me a kick up the arse to kick on a bit. There’s a lot of competition at the club, so I need to stay focused and make sure I’m at the top of my game.
“I think that Dicko and Allan are still struggling a bit, but that doesn’t mean that I can slack off. I’ve got to keep the wolf away from the door and make sure I’m still playing at the top of my game even when these guys are injured.”
Now 25, Sutherland made his Scotland debut against Ireland in the 2016 Six Nations Championship, and won two more caps on that summer’s tour to Japan. He was called up to the Scotland squad for last month’s three Murrayfield internationals, and although in the event Marfo and Glasgow Warriors’ Jamie Bhatti shared the loosehead duties, he was pleased to be recognised at a time when he had only made the odd club outing.
“It was nice to know I was in their thoughts for the Autumn Tests,” he added. “But I need to make sure that my focus now is on the games ahead. First and foremost is Krasny Yar this weekend, and then especially the two games against Glasgow.”
With next year’s Six Nations just around the corner, the 1872 Cup double-header is the ideal stage for Sutherland to show he is back on form as well as back to full fitness. “It’s a good stage for the coaches to watch you playing against your team-mates in the national side,” he acknowledged. “I’m looking forward to it.”