ANDREW van der Heijden will blow away three months of frustration this afternoon in Bath, as he takes his first steps as a Newcastle Falcons player.
The 26-year-old lock-forward suffered a broken arm while playing for Auckland back in October, just two days after signing up for his big Kingston Park move.
Devastated at arriving in the North East in early December unable to join the fray, the quiet Kiwi has been toiling away behind the scenes all the while, desperate to pull on the shirt.
“It’s been almost two months now, and that’s a long time without a game,” he said, having been named on the bench for this afternoon’s LV= Cup clash at the Recreation Ground. “It’s finally come round though, and I can’t wait to get out there.
“I’m fully fit now, and to be honest the same was true two weeks ago. The problem was that I wasn’t registered for the Amlin Challenge Cup, so I couldn’t play against Montpellier or make the trip for the cancelled match in Bourgoin last weekend.
“In the long run those extra two weeks won’t hurt, but when you’ve been out for so long you just want to get back onto that field as quickly as possible.”
Van der Heijden, whose name stems from his Dutch father, forms part of a bolstered Falcons squad in the West Country today, with Newcastle in hot pursuit of a semi-final place as they sit top of their group on points difference midway through the group phase.
Countryman Jimmy Gopperth is among the stars drafted back into the starting line-up, with Scotland prop Euan Murray, No 8 Ally Hogg, centre Tane Tu’ipulotu and scrum-half Micky Young all named in the side.
“We’ve got a really strong team for today, and the best thing is that guys are really fighting for positions,” said the Aucklander.
“At this stage I’ve not been told that I’m in the first team for the Premiership games or anything like that – as far as I’m concerned I’m just another player and I have to show my worth like everybody else.
“I need to prove myself at a new club and fight for the jersey, but it’s a good squad and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Admitting that the bench represents the ideal place from which to make his return, the six-foot-seven star said: “There’s no way to replicate match fitness, and coming on as a replacement for my first game is probably the best way to get my body back into it.
“I’ll be blowing the cobwebs out, but hopefully there’ll be a bit of impact with hitting rucks, mauls and doing my work in the line-out.
“I just have to keep it simple though and just start off with my basics, I need to keep switched-on and get back in there.”
Revealing his arduous route to full fitness after suffering his fractured radius in Auckland’s ITM Cup victory over Tasman, van der Heijden said: “The first month or so was just getting thrashed by the conditioning coaches and the medical staff, but that has slowly built up into more rugby work as the injury improved.
“I’ve been in full training for the past three weeks, and it’s felt good just to get all the bumps and bruises again you expect as a rugby player.”
Aware that his side face a tough examination this afternoon at The Rec, he added: “We’ve had a good look at them on the video and they look like a strong team, but the main focus is what we can do to hurt them.
“We’re definitely confident, and we’ve had a really good week of training. It was unfortunate that the match in Bourgoin was postponed, but the guys are all raring to go after a weekend without a game.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS (v Bath away, today, 2.15pm): Alex Tait, Luke Fielden, Luke Eves, Tane Tu’ipulotu, Gcobani Bobo, Jimmy Gopperth, Micky Young; Jon Golding, Matt Thompson, Euan Murray, James Hudson (captain), Tim Swinson, Mark Wilson, Will Welch, Ally Hogg.
Replacements: Rob Vickers, Grant Shiells, James Hall, Andrew van der Heijden, Ed Williamson, Chris Pilgrim, James Fitzpatrick, Joel Hodgson.