NRC: Fitzpatrick launches Australian comeback in NRC

by Montanna Clare

Damien Fitzpatrick was thousands of kilometres away from home, lying in a Geneva hospital bed after a third knee reconstruction in less than two years.

That was the easy part.

The gruelling rehab sessions, those felt like nothing compared to the feeling of fragility that he found almost impossible to shake.

“Mentally, it was the hardest. There were some dark days,” he said.

“The rehab was the easiest, because naturally I enjoy training. I suppose the mental side of it, returning to play was the toughest.

“Getting back on the field was the hardest part. At that stage, I felt like my body was almost made of glass.”

Lyon rewarded Fitzpatrick’s decision to take a riskier surgical route with a two-year deal, seasons that he made it through unscathed.

“It was a pretty big surgery, but it was all worthwhile in the end,” he says.

“You know I said, ‘What have I got to lose?’.

“I gave it a go and haven’t looked back.”

Fitzpatrick playing for French Top 14 side Lyon OU. Photo: Getty Images Every game he has notched since has felt like a blessing, the 27-year-old grateful for every minute he plays without incident.

“It’s almost like, every game I get and nothing happens, it’s a luxury. It’s a privilege to play,” he says.

“If something happens again, I will walk away, but for the time being I’m just happy being back playing.

“It’s a really exciting time to meet some new players, and new coaches, and hopefully develop in different areas.

A talented junior, Fitzpatrick skippered the 2008 Australian Schoolboys and debuted for NSW at 20 but his initial injuries changed the trajectory of his career, cutting short that Waratahs stint at exactly the time he felt ready to push for Test consideration.

Fitzpatrick's time at the Waratahs was cut short due to injury. Photo: Getty Images. "I was coming off the back of two ACLs, back to back, so I missed two years of Super Rugby at a time when I was really ready to make the next jump up,” he says.

“I did one after three rounds in and the other on the first day of pre-season, which meant I missed the entire following year.

Now that he’s back in Australia, starting with his NRC season at the Rays, Fitzpatrick’s Wallabies dream is still in his mind.

“The timing for me and my age and what I’ve missed out on through injury, there’s just some unfinished business I had to come back to here,” he says.

“Ideally I think any player coming back to Australia wants that as their goal… as a little kid, anyone wants to play for the Wallabies.

“If there was an opportunity there, I would definitely love to give it a go.”

The front-rower joined the Sydney Rays on his return to Australia. Photo: Getty Images.First, though, his focus is on the Rays and Fitzpatrick is confident they can compete for the title in what could be the most open rendition of the NRC yet.

“We’ve got the talent and we’re a pretty young squad,” he said.

“We’ve got to knuckle down this weekend, and see what happens when we play away from home.   

“There’s every chance that I think the trophy could end up down here (in Sydney).”

 The Sydney Rays play their first away game on Saturday, when they go up against Queensland Country at Bond University at 3pm.