Saints hooker Haywood so happy to be back after fearing his career was over

Mike Haywood will start against Harlequins on Friday night
Mike Haywood will start against Harlequins on Friday night

Mike Haywood walked into the medical room at Kingsholm and saw his career flash before his eyes.

On the night he had made his 200th Saints appearance, he had just come off the field with what he didn't think was too serious an injury due to the lack of pain he was feeling.

But replays of the incident were being shown on a screen and the hooker had to pull himself together to stop himself fearing the worst.

"It was weird really because after it happened, I went into the medical room and they had a BT thing in there, one of the TVs where they look for the concussion stuff, but they were replaying my injury on it so I saw it and knew it was a bad one," Haywood explained.

"I didn't want to lose my head there, I waited to see what the specialist said."

Haywood had suffered serious damage to his knee ligaments after a maul fell on him during the Premiership Rugby Cup game against Gloucester on November 9 last year.

It was an injury that was to rule him out for almost a full 12 months before he finally made his return to action in the win against Worcester Warriors last weekend.

"It was a long time to be out and it was just the process - it isn't a short injury," Haywood said.

"When I injured my shoulder, it was quite easy to do stuff and things happen really quickly: I can go from stretching, to lifting weights to tackling someone.

"Whereas with this injury, I had quite a few setbacks.

"I did my MCL, ACL and a grade two PCL but because I did my PCL slightly, I had to be put in a brace.

"All the brace did was keep my knee forward so I wasn't able to bend it. After eight weeks of having the brace on, I couldn't bend it much and after weeks and weeks of physio, relentless stuff, it was so painful.

"I had to get it re-bent and had to be put under, they had to crack the scar tissue that had built up.

"I got to six or seven months, felt really good, started to run and then I started to suffer with not being able to bend my knee again. I had to have loads of jabs, fluid drained.

"The worst time was the early bit because I was thinking I needed to start looking at my insurance stuff as I didn't think I was going to make it."

Haywood had to find ways of occupying his mind, and his team-mates and family played a big part in keeping him motivated during his recovery.

"I've been doing quite a lot of stuff," said Haywood, who turned 27 the day after suffering the injury at Gloucester.

"I worked with PTS Training Academy, who supply training.

"We started doing a leadership and management course here and that kept me busy for the first two or three months.

"We've also started doing a site carpentry course at Moulton - me, Franner (Francois van Wyk), Mitch Eadie and JJ Tonks.

"I've been trying to get out and about and my family have been a big help to me."

In Haywood's absence, Saints delivered a strong first season under boss Chris Boyd, winning the Premiership Rugby Cup, reaching the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and making the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.

And that success, Haywood says, served as inspiration for him as he was so desperate to be part of the new era at Franklin's Gardens.

"You have so many ups and downs with an injury like I had, but the lads here and the physios kept me going and watching them get to the semi-finals really fuelled me for this season," said the Saints Academy product.

"I want to come and be a part of what's going to happen here in the future.

"I've watched it develop behind the scenes over the past year and watching all the boys perform and getting into the semi-final and them wanting me to be part of it has driven me forward.

"I want to make sure I come in and put my hand up this season rather than making mistakes.

"We are a team that should be winning silverware, the boys did that last year and now we've got to push on.

"When you're winning, it's brilliant. We're two from two but if we'd lost them, it would be a different story.

"It just goes to show what winning can do for a team because when you get a bit of momentum going, like England have at the moment, you get that psychological dominance and that's a good thing to have."

Haywood spent weeks helping his team-mates to prepare for the games at the start of this season.

He explained: "I had four or five weeks where I was prepping the boys.

"Everything for us is about Saints first and we as an elite training group needed to prep the first team to play at the weekend.

"It was a chance for me to get better and also to help get the other boys get things right for the weekend.

"At the moment, it shows we're doing it right because the boys are starting to play well.

"We're going in the right direction."

And so is Haywood, who feels the time he spent out of the game can now make him stronger and better.

He racked up a huge amount of games by the age of 26, having become a key member of the squad, starting both finals in the double-winning season of 2013/14.

That relentless match action was taking its toll, but now he has finally had the chance to 'freshen up'.

"I've had the chance to put some weight on so I'm 104kg rather than 100kg," he explained.

"It made a massive difference and I got to the gym a lot because I couldn't really use my leg.

"Hopefully it will help me to tackle better, carry bigger and clear out better.

"We'll just have to wait to see.

"I was a bit slow last weekend, the cobwebs were coming out, but give me two or three games and I should be alright."

Haywood got more minutes than expected on his long-awaited return to action last weekend, coming on for the injured James Fish midway through the first half.

But he loved every minute of the experience.

"It was really humbling to come back and take a step on the pitch, considering the injury I had," said Haywood, who will start against Harlequins on Friday night.

"I didn't actually think I'd come back and play again and it was an amazing experience to be back - one I won't forget."