Fit-again Mitchell reflects on roller coaster year with Saints and England

Alex Mitchell got his first start of the season last SundayAlex Mitchell got his first start of the season last Sunday
Alex Mitchell got his first start of the season last Sunday
Alex Mitchell was at the airport when he found out his summer holiday wouldn't be happening.

It wasn't because of a flight cancellation, but because of a phone call.

The scrum-half was informed that the injury he had suffered during an England XV game against the Barbarians a day earlier was more serious than he feared.

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He would have to head back home and get ready for an operation to repair his knee.

And what followed was days of frustration as he saw team-mates and close friends George Furbank, Alex Moon and Lewis Ludlam posting holiday pictures from where he was supposed to be, Bali.

"I actually drove down to the airport on crutches because I didn't know the results of my scan yet and I'd packed for Bali and everything," Mitchell explained.

"I got my scan results so I needed an operation and they were like 'you've got to sack Bali off'.

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"So I missed out on that even though I'd already got to the airport. I was trying to sort out my insurance.

"I was quite optimistic, but realistically I was never going to be able to go because my knee was quite swollen.

"I missed out on it, but it happens.

"I was literally on a hospital bed for a bit and then at home so I was bed-bound watching the lads in Bali.

"It was pretty tough for two or three weeks and that's the worst bit, but once you get through that you're alright."

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It seems Bali must be the go-to holiday destination for aspiring England rugby players as Mitchell, Furbank, Moon and Ludlam were all recently named in the national squad for the Six Nations training camps.

Furbank and Ludlam have both featured for England during the tournament, but Moon is now injured and Mitchell has been making his way back as an 'apprentice player'.

The experience of training with England has been hugely valuable for the 22-year-old.

And he will now look to compete with the likes of Cobus Reinach and Henry Taylor at Saints to give himself a shot of adding to that solitary Red Rose appearance against the Barbarians.

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"It's been awesome experience just to be around players like Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell," Mitchell said.

"It's about learning how they do things and it's a different way of seeing how training is done and all these different experiences.

"For me, it's been valuable and I've really enjoyed it."

Mitchell has been able to return from the England camp to get his first game time of the season in recent weeks.

He came off the bench in the home defeat to Bristol Bears earlier this month and then got his first start, in the 57-7 defeat at Exeter Chiefs last Sunday.

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"It was obviously good to be back out there from the start last weekend - it's been a while!," he said.

"I'm obviously disappointed with the result but getting a start and getting 55 minutes to get that game fitness is important to me.

"I enjoyed it.

"We were obviously very disappointed with the game but Exeter is a tough place to go and we weren't good enough."

So how has Mitchell's knee been feeling since he's been back?

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"The injury has felt good, I've felt confident in it," he said.

"It's obviously been a tough eight months but it's something you've got to get on with and when you come back, you've got to put your hand up for selection.

"You can't use your injury as an excuse and you've got to give yourself the best shot to be picked.

"I'm just happy to be back out there and trying to put my hand up."

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As well as missing his holiday in Bali, Mitchell was also absent for Saints' build-up to the new season and the first half of it.

"Missing the whole start of pre-season and the first few games, you feel out of it," said the Maidstone-born No.9.

"You're isolated, doing your own stuff with the physios and your own rehab so that can be quite tough in that sense.

"But as soon as you get back to training, playing with the team it comes back pretty quickly and you get to learn the plays.

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"It's not too massive missing the start of the season as you get it back quite quickly.

"In that sense it's not been too bad."

His time on the sidelines has clearly been made easier by the help of those behind the scenes at Saints.

"The physios have been great," said Mitchell, who has 40 Saints appearances to his name.

"You can obviously get down when you're injured, but they try to keep your morale up, they bring snacks in and try to change it up for you.

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"It's normally chocolate for me, I'm a chocolate fan and Kiera (Ruddy), my physio, is pretty good. She always seems to bring some chocolate in for me, which always boosts my morale.

"As a fan, you never really see them (the backroom staff) but for the players they're absolutely massive and you wouldn't function without the treatment and rehab they do.

"They literally keep you on the field at times so a huge shout-out to them."

Mitchell is now back in the groove after what he admits was a roller coaster year.

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The end of last season was particularly eventful as he and Saints suffered a Gallagher Premiership play-off semi-final defeat at Exeter Chiefs.

Mitchell was named the club's young player of the year before his England experience and his injury arrived.

"It was a really good end to the season in many ways." he said.

"Obviously we were disappointed with the semi-final defeat at Exeter, but getting a call-up to the England XV against the Barbarians was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed it.

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"But it was a bit like a roller coaster because I was up at one minute, playing at Twickenham, and then I was injured and I couldn't go on my trip to Bali so I lost out there.

"But it's just what it's like to be a rugby player; one minute you're doing really well and the next minute you're injured and you're down.

"It's about how you come back."

While Cobus Reinach scooped the players' and supporters' player of the year award, Mitchell was crowned Saints' best young gun from the 2018/19 campaign.

And that meant a lot to him, especially because of the talent of the players he was up against for the gong.

"It was massive," Mitchell said.

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"I remember when I was 18, 19 and I saw the likes of Mikey Haywood and Harry Mallinder get it and I always looked up to them.

"Then when I got it, it was quite an honour actually.

"I enjoyed that, especially because of the young team and all the good young players we have.

"It was a great experience."