Saturday’s visit of Bordeaux-Begles represents the light at the end of a long tunnel for Newcastle Falcons prop Sam Lockwood, who is set to return after more than a year out with injury.
The 3.15pm European Challenge Cup kick-off comes 55 weeks after the Yorkshireman suffered a serious Achilles injury against Exeter Chiefs, the 29-year-old determined to make up for lost time following a gruelling year of rehab.
Coming through 40 minutes unscathed for the Falcons’ second-string in their 62-12 A-League hammering of Wasps two weeks ago, Lockwood said: “I’ve been back in full training for just over a month, I’ve been itching to get out to play but the coaches and medical staff have just been making sure I’ve had enough rugby training before they put me back out there.
“I had a half for the A-Team the week before last, although truth be told it wasn’t the toughest of games. In my mind I’ve thought of it more as a training session than my comeback game, because it wasn’t the most physical.”
Looking back on his road to recovery the former Leeds and Jersey prop said: “For the first couple of weeks I could put absolutely no weight on my feet at all, so I was basically just living downstairs in the house getting looked after constantly.
“Once I could get a little bit more mobile I was able to get into the gym, and that’s essentially where I’ve been for the best part of a year. There’s gym fitness and game fitness, though, so Saturday will definitely be a good test for my lungs. There’s nothing you can do in training to replicate that first proper hit-out, and I wouldn’t really class my recent A-League game as that.
“The more you play the fitter you get, and I’m just so excited to get back out there on the pitch. It’s been a long time coming, the longest lay-off I’ve ever had, and I’m buzzing to run down that tunnel before kick-off.”
Named twice in the RFU Championship Dream Team before joining Newcastle in the summer of 2016, the former fireman was only just getting going as a Falcons player when his Achilles injury struck.
He said: “Fortunately I got a couple of games under my belt before the injury and felt like I’d made a good impression, but obviously it has been tough being out for a year and I’m just excited to get back out there.
“It’s good to see the team doing well, even when I’m not involved, and I’m happy for the lads that they’ve shown that progression. The club is moving forward, we’re in a better place and it’s improving every week.”
Newcastle sit top of their group after beating Dragons (32-27) and Bordeaux-Begles (21-20) in their two outings so far, Lockwood well aware that Bordeaux will offer a full-blooded challenge in a game which may prove key in deciding quarter-final qualification.
“I know it’s a bit of a stereotype but you generally know what you’re going to get against the French teams – a big physical threat and a focus on the set piece, but we fronted up against that over in Bordeaux and will be looking to do so again,” said the loose-head.
“The clear goal for us is to finish top of our group and get into knock-out rugby with a home draw in the quarter-finals, and we’re not thinking about anything else this weekend.
“People in the past have said French teams don’t travel but if we start falling into that mentality we’ll come unstuck. We have to prepare for Bordeaux to turn up at their very best, and they’re a good side. We’ve prepared all week for what we know will be a tough game, we’re focused and we’re on top of all our analysis. We’ll have to be.”
Tickets for Saturday’s 3.15pm kick-off at Kingston Park Stadium are available by clicking here, calling 0871 226 6060 or from Kingston Park Stadium in person.