After almost six months on the physio’s table, Harry Simmons might have hoped for 10, maybe 20 minutes here or there to wean him back into top-flight rugby.
He probably wasn’t expecting a full 80 minutes at Sale in a one-on-one battle with World Player of the Year Faf de Klerk, but thanks to an injury crisis and Ben Youngs’ role in England’s Six Nations campaign, that’s exactly the hand he was dealt.
“It’s nice to be back,” Simmons said. “It’s cool to finally get that feeling [of a match day], as I don’t think I’ve felt that kind of nervous in the last five months.
“The result was not what we wanted, and playing the full 80 was probably not how I’d planned my comeback, but it was nice to get through it and get a bit of confidence up top.”
The young scrum-half had last played competitive rugby when he skippered Tigers in the Premiership Sevens last July, with his most recent appearance in the 15-man game against Bath at Twickenham in April 2018.
“Getting back out on the pitch is something that I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”Harry Simmons
But a lateral meniscal tear to Simmons’ knee in pre-season sidelined the 21-year-old for more than half of the year, and he admitted that the injury took him to a difficult place.
“I had to have an operation to stitch up the tear,” he explained. “It was really tough, because it does mentally get you. But when you’re in an environment like this with five or six guys in the same boat, [you realise] it’s not the end of the world.
“Rehab involved a lot of fitness, a lot of biking and rowing, and all that sort of stuff, so when I finally got out to training on the pitch about a month-and-a-half ago, it was a nice feeling.”
A wet and windy Friday night at Sale was less of a nice feeling, though, and Simmons is keen to kick on as the Gallagher Premiership calendar builds to a climax.
He added: “I felt very, very rusty. There were a lot of breaks in play, a lot of knock-ons and errors across the board, and I think you forget about a lot of stuff when you’ve been out for so long.
“I haven’t played since pre-season, so there are small things that I probably didn’t take into account going into the game [which meant] I was disappointed in my own performance, but you could say that I haven’t played in five months.
“Getting back out on the pitch is something I’ve been waiting for for a long time. Looking back on it, it’s gone quickly, but at the time it felt like it was never going to end.”
And Simmons – who agreed new contract terms during his time away – was keen to pay tribute to the club’s medical team, who oversaw his rehabilitation.
“They’re unbelievable,” he said. “They take such good care of the boys. We’ve been unlucky with injuries recently with lots of concussions and things, but they’re really good at looking after us, and the player welfare here is top notch.”