Edinburgh loosehead Allan Dell is looking to put an injury-blighted year behind him and is viewing the upcoming crucial period as a chance to get back to the kind of form which saw him earn a surprised British and Irish Lions cameo last year.
Ever since that injury call-up to Warren Gatland’s touring side in New Zealand, Dell himself has been beset by back, groin and leg problems which has severely limited his game time. He managed a comeback at the end of last season and featured on all three matches of Scotland’s summer tour, taking his caps tally to 13 since debuting against the Wallabies in the 2016 autumn Test series.
It has taken time to fully recover and, with fellow South Africa-born new signing Pierre Schoeman impressing upon his arrival, Dell has had to wait get his chance in the No 1 jersey.
Schoeman’s four-week ban for his red card against Leinster, opens a window of opportunity for Dell to remain the starting choice against Cheetahs in the Guinness Pro14 at BT Murrayfield this Friday and then the crunch Gallic Heineken Champions Cup double header away to Montpellier and home to Toulon.
“I am 26, which is still young, but my body feels a lot older,” said Dell. “Everybody is looking after me well. I am starting to feel quite fresh. These last few weeks I have been getting out of the bed in the morning without pain.
“I am starting to feel like a young buck again. Managing my body is important because I didn’t really take that side seriously enough, a bit for granted. The younger you are you get up and just start running and you are fine.
“These injuries they set me back quite a lot. I am trying to manage the body a lot more. I am trying to train hard and that is the most important thing and come into games trying to fire.”
Dell recounted the tale of woe which followed him being part of the controversial “Geography Six” which saw him and Scotland team-mate Finn Russell called from Scotland’s Pacific tour to the Lions as midweek stop gaps. Four Welsh players also joined the squad.
“When I got off the plane from New Zealand I had two bulging discs in my back. I tried to let it settle down naturally but it didn’t so we had an operation,” he explained.
“I was still not feeling great just before the Krasny Yar game [in the European Challenge Cup] a year ago after the London Irish game. I tore my left groin and had to have a microdiscectomy operation [to remove the loose piece of disc that was compressing the spinal nerve]. I had those two operations back to back in the space of ten days. That kept me out for ages.”
Dell now has some rugby under his belt but now needs the kind of sustained game time which tight-five forwards in particular require to get back to the top of their trade.
“Nobody is ever 100 per cent but I am feeling good. I feel better than I have in a long time. I am pain free which is a relief. Playing without that discomfort and pain after such a long time is great.
“Most athletes and rugby players if you go for a scan you will have bulges in your back, but I was just unfortunate that mine was hitting the nerve going down to the foot so I had no power down my hamstring there was pain always shooting and just bending over to try and put my sock on brought a sharp pain.
“I have still got that, but I can look after it now and it isn’t sore and I am used to it.”
Dell admits that Schoeman’s suspension means it is time for him to step up to the plate.
“Pierre is a good player,” said the Eastern Cape man, who qualifies for Scotland through his Paisley grandmother. “I remember him from back home and used to play against his brother so he is a good player. It is unfortunate for him to be out, we all know what happened and by the letter of the law it is a red card.
“It is unfortunate for us running up to the European games, but it is good that Cockers [head coach Richard Cockerill] has been managing us well and he has got his plan to work with us and what games he is going to play us in and we have to make sure we take our chances.”