Ulster back Jared Payne has left the door open for a return to action in the RaboDirect PRO12 before the end of the season as he continues on the long road to recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
New Zealander Payne was one of the club’s eye-catching summer signings and showed glimpse of why he was so highly thought of in his opening two RaboDirect PRO12 matches against Cardiff Blues and Ospreys.
But then disaster struck 15 minutes into the match against Bennetton Treviso when he ruptured his Achilles – an injury that initially ruled him out for the entire season.
It has also meant a painful recuperation process but now there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the 26-year-old.
“The rehabilitation is going well and I’m looking forward to getting back out on the pitch to be honest with you,” Payne told the Ulster website.
“We will have to see how things go. I might not be back for the end of the season but I’ll be ready to get a full pre-season behind me and make up for lost time next season.
“But my mum came over to look after me and the boys were pretty good – they came over to visit me a bit. Craig Gilroy lives downstairs and has taken me out and shown me around places. Chad (Chris Henry) and Cavey (Darren Cave) have been good too. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see and do a lot more over the next few months.
“I’ve been in the gym from 10 in the morning to 1 or 2 in the afternoon most days. I’m starting to get some strength back in the ankle now.”
During his four and half months on the sidelines, Payne has watched Ulster recover from a poor start to reignite their RaboDirect PRO12 play-off charge as well as reaching the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
And though he is desperate to rejoin his teammates as soon as possible, Payne maintains that can’t be at the expense of re-aggravating his initial injury.
“Alan McCaldin [Ulster physiop] has my targets all planned out as to where he wants me to be at certain times during my recovery so I’m trying to stick to those,” he said.
“But I’m just taking each week as it comes; if it’s feeling good then I’ll crank it up a bit but if it’s not then I’ll slow down.
“It is general fitness stuff, weights, boxing and ropes and rehab exercises. I’ve been in the swimming pool as well to do a bit of aqua jogging. But my workload has been mainly upper body weights but I’m slowly increasing my load on the lower body.
“They’ve been impressive. In the last couple of months, since they’ve had the internationals back, they’ve shown what they’re capable of,” said Payne.
“The next group down have to put a bit of pressure on themselves and try to step up as well so that of there are injuries we can keep consistency through to the end of the season.”