Baloucoune hoping to catch up with Sevens pace-setters after injury nightmare

AVULSION IS A word that doesn’t inherently sound positive, but it at least serves to mask the painful truth of an injury that has entered the rugby lexicon since Paul O’Connell hit the deck during the 2015 World Cup.

‘Ripped off the bone’ is how Robert Baloucoune describes the horrific hamstring injury that kept him sidelined since last summer.

Factor in lockdown and the Enniskillen man has had to wait a year between Ulster appearances, arriving off the bench at half-time last week before earning a start against Leinster in tonight’s Conference B-deciding inter-pro (kick-off 19.35, eir Sport).

Like O’Connell and a handful of other players who have suffered the fate, Baloucoune’s injury came about as he was engaged in a jackal. Legs engaged, head and hands down to contest for the ball. It’s a balancing act and when pressure comes from a clear-out it is borne by the larger leg muscles.

“Just in a practice match,” says Baloucoune when asked to describe the scene of his worst injury to date.

“Got caught in a bad position over the ball, got caught badly and the hamstring went. I didn’t think it was that bad at the time, but it was on the scan obviously.

“It wasn’t sore at the time, that night it was really bad and then the scan showed up that it was ripped off the bone.”

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Physical pain was coupled with the career frustration of being forced to sit out theAugust restart that loomed after six months of sporting shutdown.

It could not have helped any sense of missing out on opportunities when fellow Sevens rugby graduates Will Connors, Hugo Keenan and Shane Daly got a chance to show their wares on the international stage.

“I wouldn’t have thought (playing Sevens with them) ‘in a couple of years we’ll see each other in an Ireland squad’. It’s good to see boys progressing through, great to see that Sevens has benefited them.

“It’s another route for boys like myself, it got me back into Ulster, into the academy. It’s a good pathway for developing skills.”

“Not really much you can do,” he adds of the path he has not yet been able to follow Daly and Keenan on, “but hopefully I’ll be back in the same situation as I was before.”

Baloucoune celebrates with Leinster’s Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien after a 7s win over England in Twickenham in 2018. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Baloucoune, stationed today on the right wing, is relieved to be back in action with the numbers to prove he is progressing back to his peak after being forced to take an uncomfortable seat for the first half of the season.

“Definitely the first few weeks of rehab where you can’t really move, it’s pretty sore most of the time, even sitting down.

“You’re just doing bits of rehab and you are apprehensive (wondering) ‘am I ever going to get the same speed, or strength back in my hammy?’

“I felt every week just building up the strength and endurance in my hamstrings I got back to about 90% and then it was all positive seeing the results coming in.”

It’s been a long road back to this point for the 23-year-old, but he takes solace in the fact that he wasn’t injured for the full year-long absence. And when he was, there was no exciting adventures the the debilitating injury was keeping him from.

“It hasn’t felt as long, maybe because there wasn’t much going on during the lockdown period. No one else was doing anything, but when games are on and you’re missing training and matches and everyone else is coming in sore after the weekend, that’s where you find you’re missing out.”

He’ll be back in the happily bruised category come tomorrow morning. But if he isn’t celebrating a result at Kingspan Stadium tonight then Ulster’s chase for a Pro14 final spot will be over.

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