After almost ten months on the sidelines, Connacht flanker Jake Heenan made a welcome return to the side in the New Year’s Day derby clash with Leinster at the RDS. He played 53 minutes in his first game back and despite the defeat it was a fantastic feeling for the 23-year-old New Zealander.

“It was unreal”, Heenan said this week. “I was pretty nervous in the build up but as the week goes on you feel better getting reps under your belt and getting back in with the team. During the game, it was about staying comfortable and not getting too excited. I was just looking forward to getting out there and expressing myself again. Trusting myself that I could do it while not over thinking anything was important for me.”

Heenan has suffered a series of unfortunate injuries since his arrival to Connacht in the summer of 2014. Two separate shoulder injuries have required surgery and subsequently a lengthy recovery period.

“Yea it was close to 10 months since my last game. It took a little bit longer this time as it wasn’t the first time I had had a shoulder injury. So it was a long road and it took a lot of hard work but we have a great set up here with the RTP (return to perform) group and that was very helpful. It was very much a day by day approach and with these sorts of things you can’t get ahead of yourself. You just have to try and enjoy what you’re doing at the time, enjoy coming in every day and working hard with your mates. “

“You actually find you’re very busy when you’re injured and there’s always something you can be doing. There is always more S&C work, always rugby work. Keeping your head in the game especially as you go into those later months is really important to help with the re-integration.

 “As you get closer to playing, your focus moves from your rehab and S&C and more towards the rugby side of things.”

Asked how he coped with the long months of recovery and watching from the sidelines, Heenan’s response was, as always, positive and upbeat:

“I’m really enjoying the mood in the camp and the boys. I love seeing us doing well and getting results. The challenge for me was being ‘big picture’ focused and not having tunnel vision with the injury by thinking ‘oh we just beat Munster, I wish I was there, I have to get back by this date’. Coming back from this injury, in particular, was more about my career in the long-term rather than just this season. So while it’s great to be back, and I’m doing everything I can do to give my best for the team, throughout those long months it was about ‘what do I need to do right now to give myself the chance of a ten-year career?’

“Now that I’m back, I’ve kept my immediate goals very simple. I want to get through as many games as I can injury free. Outside of that, I want to get back and lock down the number 7 jersey within the squad.”

Connacht take on Scarlets on Sunday January 10th at Parc y Scarlets in Wales, kick off 2:30pm. The Connacht team to face Scarlets will be named on Friday at 12 noon.

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