SEVEN months of frustration came to an end for Cliffie Hodgson last weekend when he finally made his return in a Coventry shirt at Esher.
Despite becoming the first Coventry player to reach 1,000 league points, last season was one to forget for the South African as he was restricted to just 11 appearances by a shoulder problem before undergoing surgery in the summer.
Included in Cov’s match day squad for the first time since then last weekend, Hodgson was called into action at full-back after 46 minutes when James Stokes suffered a leg injury.
And although it turned out to be an inauspicious day for Cov as they slumped to a 34-14 defeat, it was a moment to savour for Hodgson with the bonus that his shoulder was put squarely to the test within two minutes of his entry.
“It felt awesome and a bit like making my debut all over again,” said Hodgson. “It was a difficult one to come back in – I was that nervous because of my shoulder, it was my first game for seven months, and as we were ten points behind I really wanted to make an impact.
“I was a bit unlucky because on my very first hit I ran straight into a guy, he was holding on to my leg, and the guy in front hit me shoulder to shoulder.
“It was bone against bone, a stinger, my shoulder was numb for the rest of the game and I was a bit worried that I’d done something to it.
“But it’s just bruised, it’s nothing to do with the injury I had before – I can say my shoulder is fixed, the rotator cuff and the labrum have healed, so that’s one positive I can take from the game.
“Getting the first game out of the way, and the bumps and the bruises which come from that, I’m so much more confident and a lot better for it.”
Hodgson concedes that last season and the recovery period have been a challenge.
“Last season I was playing with a shoulder that was coming in and out of joint all the time. It was really hard to be confident and even consider playing,” he said.
“I regret not having the surgery when I initially had the injury, I should have taken a step back, but at the same time I wanted to come back and make a difference
“Not playing is mentally draining, especially when the boys are losing, but it’s also tough when they’re winning because you want to be a part of it. I’m way more calmer on the pitch than I am off it.
“I’ve been kind of the forgotten man at Coventry. In the past I’d been on of the leaders, but I’ve been really quiet, just trying to work on my game and get my fitness.
“With so many new players in the squad you want to show them what you can do and prove to the new coaches that they made the right decision.”
Hodgson returned with a ringing endorsement from director of rugby, Rowland Winter for the way he has applied himself in training and worked his way back into contention.
“The way we are playing with an exciting brand of rugby is the way I grew up playing in South Africa and something I want to be a part of, so I was excited to be playing and Rowland’s words made the fire in my belly go up a bit more,” said Hodgson.
“It was probably not the best game to come back in and we didn’t play well.
“We know we have a lot to learn, but we’re not making any excuses. We missed tackles and we didn’t play to the game plan. We take responsibility for everything, but we need to keep going because it’s easy to let your head s go down.
“In my first season at Coventry we were a new team and we particularly struggled away from home, but you do learn from that in and the second and third seasons together you have the experience of playing those difficult sides away from home and how it feels.
“Especially away from home you need to do the basics well to come away with a win.
“We could go on a winning run, you never know. The season before last, we had lost two out of four and people had written us off, but we then went on an 18-game unbeaten run. As players we can’t let our heads drop, we have got to keep working hard.
”It’s a learning curve for a lot of the players, but we’ve also got a lot of experience within the team. We’ve got pride and it’s our responsibility to put it right.”
Despite the surgery, there were highlights inthe summer for Hodgson as he got engaged to Sarah and they bought their first house together.
“I guess everything like that kept my head in the right place while I wasn’t able to play rugby.
“Now I can’t wait to string a couple of games together and enjoy it. It’s amazing to wear the jersey again, but also just to be able to ply again.
“I’m only 27-years-old, I’ve still got a lot of years of playing left.”