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Saturday 18 August 2018

Wright on schedule

Stan ready for fight to reclaim starting place with return imminent

Six months on the sidelines. While the evenings edge ever longer, the days of Stan Wright's return are drawing shorter.

Long-term setbacks are the ultimate test for any professional athlete. The promise of springtime will provide a fitting backdrop to Wright's return, but as the final leg of the rehabilitation looms he has to keep his enthusiasm in check.

Like the eager nine-year-old sub hoping to catch the coaches' attentions, you can imagine the Cook Islander marching purposefully through the corridors of Leinster's David Lloyd Riverview base each morning, hoping to plant the seed that he is indeed back.

Though last night's visit of Aironi came too soon for Wright, coach Joe Schmidt admitted earlier this week, his return is imminent. And it will be a timely boost for the squad as the province readies itself for a twin assault on the knockout stages of both the Magners League and Heineken Cup competitions.

But first the lows. London Wasps, Donnybrook. A pleasantly warm August evening curtailed after just 14 second-half minutes when he felt a snap, heard the crack of his Achilles tendon as it snapped and he knew that he was in trouble. "You always know when it's a bad one and I knew straight away", he recalled. "I remembered swearing at Dev (Toner) at first because I thought that he'd rucked me by accident, but I looked around and thought, 'I'm gone here'.



Timing

"True enough it has been a long road back. But you keep positive and train hard and I'm a week or two away from my return."

Given how well Leinster have gone in recent months, does the task of breaking into the first team faze him? A puzzled stare and, as ever, a devilish chuckle. "There are a few young fellas who need to be shown a lesson," he grins. "You don't want young bucks getting above their station!

"With Rossy (Mike Ross) away with Ireland the timing is perfect to get back in the team. It couldn't have worked out any better! I'll be telling all the props; 'you're gonna have a fight to get me out of the team'.

"Seriously though, the way the team has played over the last few months makes you want to be a part of the games. I've been on the sidelines for too long and I have missed playing, especially with the guys having done so well.

"There isn't one player in the squad who can take their place for granted.

"Everyone feels as though they have a chance to be selected every week.

"There's a good mix of youth and experience and everyone's on the same wavelength. We all share the same goals."

Wright acknowledges the impact that Greg Feek has made to the Leinster scrum and, supplemented by Joe Schmidt and forwards coach Jono Gibbes, he believes that the attacking potential of the scrum is being utilised this year.

"You can definitely see Greg's influence this year. The scrum wouldn't have been seen as one of our major attacking weapons in the past, but nowadays we put as much time into it as we would our lineout or our defence. Feeky brings a different voice and I think he's complimenting the other coaches. Jono has been in the Leinster set-up for a few years now and he has been a big plus.

"I knew Joe from back playing in the NPC when I would have played for Northland against Bay of Plenty when he coached them, so he arrived with a good reputation, especially after what he achieved at Clermont last year.

"What standards does he expect from us? Put it this way, he knows what we wants from us and we certainly know the standards he wants us to reach."

Wright tells you that he couldn't have gotten through this difficult period without the love and support of his wife, Cherie, who, he insists, will be delighted to have him out from under her feet at home as one baby is enough to cater for!

His new best friends, the 32-year-old says, are the Leinster medical and conditioning staff and he is also fulsome in his praise for the support they've given him during his time on the treatment table.

"I can't say enough about all the guys who went above and beyond the call of duty at times to get me back to fitness. The injury list was quite long for a while, but there's only Rob (Kearney) and I getting treatment and hopefully we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Sometimes the medics and physios were in on weekends putting me through extra work and it will all be worth it in the end, hopefully.

"They were superb and I can't thank them enough. We've spent that much time together that we know all of each other's secrets now.

"At this stage I could give a cardio session myself I've done enough of the bloody things!"

But with his fourth child arriving the day before he was laid low, the timing was opportune to spend time with his baby daughter.

"The one big positive that I took from being out injured was Zana's arrival. The first three weeks were tough when you get your head around not training and playing but when you accept it you just have to get on with things.

"With four kids you're constantly on the go so it wasn't as if I could sit around on my backside all day anyway!

"There's no hiding place and you can't get up to mischief with your diet or anything else because at the end of each week's rehab you're so tired that you just crash out sometimes.

"I'm feeling happy with my fitness levels at the moment and I know that I'm nearly there. I had a few other small niggles before the Achilles injury that have all cleared up.

"I can certainly feel my own mindset changing with each passing week as I get stronger and I'm mustard (keen) to get back playing. I might be back next week, or maybe even the week after, but it will be sooner rather than later."

And, as they say, in life timing is everything.

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