Rob Vickerman will be scampering around ‘like an enthusiastic puppy’ when he comes off the bench in Leeds Carnegie’s European Challenge Cup fixture against Castres tomorrow night. The centre, 22, can be forgiven for doing rugby’s equivalent of wagging his tail, having spent the last 22 months on the sidelines.
Vickerman ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in January last year, underwent a reconstruction and then ruptured the same ligament again 19 minutes into his comeback eight months later. The second time, the rehabilitation was longer, 53 weeks. The operation appears to have been a success but two days before his first-team return, he sustained a minor tear in his hamstring. Five weeks later, he is finally ready.
It has been a difficult period, but there may have been some small compensation: to hasten his recovery, Vickerman has been doing yoga, pilates and tai chi with ladies at the David Lloyd Centre. “They were seniors classes,” he says ruefully. However, the extra five weeks have given Vickerman extra confidence in his knee, to the extent that he has shed his strapping and no longer thinks about the possibility of further injury. “I can’t wait to play,” he said. “It’s going to be a great experience playing again, playing with the players who got us back into the top division and playing for the club that has supported me – I am grateful for Leeds, because they didn’t have to keep me on.”
Leeds would have been insane to release Vickerman, a young No 13 with proven pedigree at Premiership and Heineken Cup level, who will enhance their side if he gets anywhere near the form he showed in his first and only season two years ago. The team currently needs a lift, having shipped 19 tries in their last three matches, including eight at Llanelli last week. Vickerman believes that victory against Castres could prove hugely significant, and he is confident that his colleagues can deliver a win.
He said: “Two years ago, we had lost our first eight matches but we gathered momentum when we beat Calvisano in Europe. “A win can give you so much belief and we showed against Newcastle Falcons and Worcester that we are nearly there, that we have the ability to beat teams at this level. Last week, we just didn’t play the game we were meant to play, and Llanelli were outstanding.”
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