Exeter Chiefs centre Ollie Devoto is so pleased to be back playing again, after missing the opening two months of the season with a very frustrating injury, writes Nigel Walrond.
The 24-year-old Yeovil-born back was relishing the start of the new campaign, having played a key part in helping Exeter win the Premiership title last season, including setting up Phil Dollman’s try in the final against Wasps at Twickenham.
However, a week before the opening pre-season game against Cardiff Blues, he suffered a nerve problem in his shoulder, and the nightmare for the former Bath back started to unfold.
It meant he was unable to play until last weekend’s opening pool game in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, when he helped Exeter to a 43-28 victory over Northampton Saints at Sandy Park.
“It has been a difficult few weeks for me,” Devoto told me. “It has been frustration more than anything.
“I didn’t think I was going to be out for as long as I was, but I am chuffed to be back playing again.
“It was a strange injury. It was a problem with a nerve in my shoulder. It initially happened overnight and then got progressively worse.
“At one point I couldn’t really lift my arm much above my head, which was a bit worrying, because with a muscle injury you know the timescale and when you are going to be back, but with a nerve problem the physios didn’t really have an idea of when it would be right, it could have been any time, but it is much better now than it was, and I am looking forward to playing.”
Devoto added: “I actually did it the week before our first pre-season game, so in my head I had this picture that I would miss a couple of pre-season games and then get back into it, but it took a little bit longer than I thought.”
Devoto looked like he had never been away against Saints, with an impressive performance that lasted 50 minutes, including a couple of try-saving tackles, and he appeared really hungry for action.
“It did not feel so great on the lungs!” laughed Devoto.
“When I got to 40-50 minutes, I was thinking ‘good grief’, but I have had about a month’s training now, which I have been enjoying, non-contact at first and then progressing on to contact, and there are still bits I need to work on, and I am a bit off in certain areas, but my return at this point has come as a blessing in disguise really, because I can play these two Anglo-Welsh Cup games and really try and get back into some form.
“I really enjoyed being back out on the pitch, especially at Sandy Park as well, it is a special place to play, even in different competitions, and I also thought the team we had out went really well, with some very good individual performances.
“It was a strong Northampton team and we knew they would bring physicality in the pack, and we spoke about our defence at times, and it wasn’t as good as it had been in previous weeks, but I thought we showed some really good stuff in attack.”
Devoto’s return has coincided with the comeback of another injured centre in Sam Hill, who agonisingly picked up a foot injury that needed surgery in the final match of the regular Premiership season last May, which meant he cruelly missed the semi-final against Saracens and the final against Wasps.
He replaced Devoto after 50 minutes against Saints, with the two of them paired together in midfield for today’s match at Scarlets.
“It has been a frustrating time for both of us and we have been rehab partners for a few weeks now,” said Devoto. “It is nice to be back out with him especially.”
While Devoto and Hill have been working their way back to full fitness, and with fellow backs Michele Campagnaro and Max Bodilly also injured, Ian Whitten and Henry Slade have had to endure a huge workload for the Chiefs, playing the opening nine Premiership and European Champions Cup games, and while Whitten has now enjoyed a two-week rest, Slade has been off at the England camp and started yesterday’s Twickenham match with Argentina.
“They have done exceptionally well,” said Devoto. “Sladey deserves to be where he is at the moment, he has been awesome the last few weeks, and Whitts as well.
“They have had their deserved time off because they have gone eight or nine games on the bounce, and I am looking forward to the competition for places now, but they are certainly the guys in form at the moment.”
Slade has talked a lot about the benefit he has gained from the changes he has made to his game since England’s summer tour to Argentina, and Devoto said: “I haven’t been on the field with him this season, but he is carrying the ball a lot more now, and that is another string to his bow.
“I think he is enjoying himself, and for someone like me, I want to try and emulate the kind of stuff he is doing.”
Now he is back playing, Devoto is looking forward to picking up where he left off at Twickenham in May.
“There is a real emphasis this season on doing well, not only in the Premiership but also in Europe, and we want to go one better and win both competitions, that is the aim for us,” commented Devoto.