Flanker Michael Rhodes had a dream start to his Saracens career featuring in both the Premiership and Champions Cup finals in their double winning season.
Since his arrival in the summer of 2015, the 30-year-old has enjoyed much success at Allianz Park and quickly became a key member of the squad.
It hasn’t gone all his way this season however with the win over Worcester Warriors last Saturday his first start at home since having a fourth operation on his right shoulder and he marked his return with a man-of-the-match performance..
Rhodes played 20 minutes of the London Double Header back in September as Saracens cruised past Northampton Saints before completing a full 80 against Bath a week later.
But September’s match in Philadelphia against Newcastle Falcons would be his last for three months.
The fourth operation appears to have sorted his shoulder for good though and Rhodes hopes that is the end of his injury woes.
“I had broken a piece, the last two inches, of my collarbone off, I did it four years ago and it had gone undiagnosed or unnoticed and that bone was basically worthless, brittle,” he explained.
“They tried to get my collarbone back to the right size by putting a piece of bone from my hip in there with a titanium plate and some cables.
“More bad luck than anything it got infected which was a major thing and secondary thing I found I was allergic to titanium.
“Through all these operations we found that out so over the next three operations we took everything out and now my collarbone is two inches shorter on the right.”
An injury is a mental challenge as much as a physical one, especially for a player who has enjoyed such success since arriving in England from South Africa.
Rhodes began his career with the Sharks in Durban before spells with the Lions and Stormers and featured for the Barbarians against Leicester Tigers in 2014.
And Saracens’ struggles for form of late, seven successive defeats in all tournaments prior to their Christmas Eve success at Welford Road, only added to Rhodes’ frustration.
“I can’t remember my last home game, it was last year but I don’t know when. I didn’t realise how long it had been, it hadn’t crossed my mind but it’s been a while,” he added.
“I always knew there was a chance with operations to go back in but the fourth one was the one that really mentally tested me.
“That was the one that really took it out of me, and that was the biggest for me mentally to deal with, I was sick and tired of it.
“It does cross your mind (if you’re going to play again), you almost go ‘to hell with it’, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.
“After the second op you think you’ll be back in two months, your hopes go up you get stronger in the gym, but do some contact, find it’s not worked and you’re back to square one.
“You always have your friends, family and the media asking how you’re doing and you’re without a purpose really when you’re not playing so it is tough.”
With just two wins from four in their Champions Cup pool, Sarries have some work to do if they are to make the knockout stages and defend their title. “We can bring some silverware home if we play consistently”
They sit third, underneath table toppers Clermont Auvergne and Welsh side Ospreys on 11 points, and Rhodes knows the road ahead will be a tough one.
“We have some big games coming up with Wasps away and then two Champions Cup games which are like finals for us now.
“We are going to have to step it up and put in some performances if we’re hoping to make it further in the competition and everyone knows that.
“Hopefully we can bring some silverware home at the end of the season if we play consistently.”