It’s rude to stare but it’s difficult not to when Edinburgh forward Fraser McKenzie walks into the press conference ahead of this evening’s warm-up match against his former club the Falcons.
McKenzie is sporting a red scar on his neck that looks like he came off second best in an argument with a cut throat razor. Instead it was the handiwork of the surgeons who saved his rugby career after the lock “splintered” a disc in his neck just before Christmas.
“I played a few more games after that,” he says nonchalently, “but I started getting a lot of neural pain which wouldn’t go away. Unfortunately there is no quick fix. It’s not just rugby you are thinking about, it’s your life after rugby and we just had to get it fixed and it took to the end of the season. I made the decision to scrap that season and make pre-season a fresh start.”
McKenzie is just one of Edinburgh’s many walking wounded who are making a welcome return to full fitness. He starts this evening’s match alongside Grant Gilchrist, which is a first although the pair have finished one game in tandem.
And while McKenzie may not recommend his exact route he reveals that a break from rugby has rekindled his love of the game. “Sometimes you need periods away from the game just to say, ‘this is why I play this sport, this is why I love it’. If you are playing week in and week out, season after season, it can get repetitive.”
Edinburgh’s long injury list last time out meant that instead of finishing the season with a sprint, the club stumbled across the line in a lowly ninth place. McKenzie points in particular to three matches on the road in Wales during the Six Nations when the club was missing its Scotland stars, every one of which ended in defeat.
“To me and to the rest of the team that was not acceptable,” said McKenzie. “I think we have made some really good signings who have bedded in well. Sometimes players can forget about their own performance when the team gets beat, just sitting there at that mediocre level, but this year the players are reviewing their performances, setting out goals and then reviewing their goals.”