At the start of the season Edinburgh prop Darryl Marfo would probably have looked ahead to the Six Nations as a potential period to get some game time and convince coach Richard Cockerill to extend the one-year deal he signed when joining from Bath.
In the end he found himself deeply frustrated to be injured and on the sidelines for his club and particularly for Scotland after winning three caps in the autumn Test series.
The 27-year-old, who has a Scottish mother, experienced a rapid rise as a front-row injury crisis bit hard and found himself going from fourth-choice loosehead at Edinburgh to an international starter against Samoa, the All Blacks and Australia.
The fairytale had an unfortunate twist, however, as an increasingly problematic back injury kept him out of action until he featured in last weekend’s win at Connacht.
“Any injury, especially a long one, is mentally tough,” said Marfo as he looked ahead to Saturday evening’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Cardiff Blues at BT Murrayfield.
“I had just had the massive high of the autumn, getting to experience international rugby with Scotland, and the plan was to come straight back to the club. I did that after a week off when they were in South Africa, and the plan was to crack on and get straight back into things with Edinburgh.
“I was preparing for the London Irish match that we had in the European competition and it was just unfortunate that my back went during that week. It was meant to be a one-week thing but it turned into two weeks and then a bit longer.
“The toughest part was the beginning, with the unknown. But once we found out what the problem was we could address it properly with more clarity. But it was quite a tough period.”
Marfo admitted it was hard to watch Six Nations campaign unfold without him, literally from afar, although he tried to make the most of it.
“It was definitely from a distance. I was sat up in the rafters. I wasn’t given access to the Royal Box,” he said with a chuckle.
“It was a bit of a tough one. The squad gets named and you know you’re not going to be in it, but when you see it in black and white and your name is not there, it does hit home a little bit more.
“I did go along to the England match and the French match. I tried to enjoy it because I’m playing rugby most weekends I don’t actually get to enjoy the whole experience that a regular fan does.
“Secondly, I wanted to use it as a bit of motivation. I was looking down on the pitch and there were about 12 other guys I had been playing with just a few months earlier, beating France and England.
“I had previously been part of that group. It was good motivation to see it in the flesh to spur me on to try and get back there.”
Marfo was able to taste some of the Six Nations experience from closer quarters as he was drafted into the Scotland training camp near the end of the tournament as his return to fitness edged nearer.
“Yes, I was called up for the last two weeks. I was in there doing a bit of training with the guys. I was in and around the environment,” he said.
“It was nice. I had bumped into [Scotland coach] Gregor [Townsend] and [forwards coach] Dan [McFarland] when Edinburgh played the Southern Kings. They were just asking how the back was getting on and they said how disappointing it was to have the injury strike when it did.
“They said they were happy with what I had done in the autumn and they were looking forward to working with me again in the future. So, yes, I did have some of those communications.”
Earning a place on the summer tour to North and South America is now Marfo’s target, although this week his sole focus is helping Edinburgh into a European semi-final. “They have quite a few Welsh internationals,” he said of Saturday’s opposition. “They have some old heads in that front row – Rhys Gill and Taufa’ao Filise, who is a rock, a cornerstone. In the back row they’ve got Josh Navidi and the others.
“They’ve got Matthew Morgan at full-back, so he is a threat with ball in hand, a livewire who can make things out of nothing. At this level, most teams are packed full of different threats. It will be a challenge, as it always is.
“Chomping at the bit is the phrase I would use to describe it. There were a few nerves and apprehension before Friday night, my first game back in roughly four months. It was nice to dust the cobwebs off and I now have a foundation to build on. That’s what I want to be doing.”