ENGLISH rugby breathed a huge sigh of relief this week when Christian Wade returned to action after nine months on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
The Wasps winger has one England cap to his name so far but missed out on the Autumn internationals last year with a hamstring injury and then the Six Nations Championships after damaging his ankle against London Irish at the end of November.
After playing a full part in pre-season training he then missed Wasps’ two warm-up matches with a hamstring niggle but made his long-awaited return in a training game against Esher on Wednesday night.
The 23-year-old played the whole match, reminding fans what they’ve missed as he ran home from 60m for a second-half try.
He said: “It was good to be back. I’ve been out for just over nine months and this was my first run out just to see where I am in terms of my injury and fitness.
“You can’t come back after nine months and expect to be flying and I felt a bit rusty, but it was just good to get out there again.
“I’ve been anxious and raring to go for quite a while now.
“Being out for nine months is my longest period away from rugby. It’s been quite a stressful time but now I’m just really looking forward to the season.”
If Wade wanted a proper work out he certainly got it, with Esher leaving nothing in the locker with some brutal tackling.
A high tackle in the first minute nearly took Wade’s head off, and later in the first half he was left on his back by an unnecessarily late hit.
He said: ““Literally my first touch of the ball in the first few minutes I was going down the wing and somebody tried to take me out.
“It was a welcome back. But that’s part of the game and you have to be able to take those kinds of hits and just get on with it.”
He came through unscathed though, and got his own back when he rose high to collect an Esher clearing kick before rounding the cover defence to score from inside his own half.
He said: “It was good to get a little try. It was quite a long way to run and I was blowing a little bit afterwards.
“But I tried to test my body and my foot, use my speed and see how I did and I came up with a try which was good for me.
“It’s good for the coaches’ confidence as well to know that if they want to pick me they can put me in and trust me again.
“But I was good to go from the first whistle. They wouldn’t put you into a game if you hadn’t gone through your strides and I’ve been in since the start of pre-season and done my fitness and speed tests.
“I’ve really been put through my strides in training and now I’ve got through a game I’m good to carry on.”
Whether one training match is enough to earn a place in the starting XV against Saracens at Twickenham remains to be seen, and Wasps do have plenty of options out wide now having strengthened substantially in that area.
Wade said: “There is a lot of competition among the wingers and all across the field, so I’m going to have to work even harder to get back in the team.
“But everything is good and onwards and upwards. It’s going to be a great year; a good year for Wasps and hopefully a good year for me as well.”