David Pocock will be back with the Brumbies on Monday, but the flanker won’t be back on the field until at least March.
Pocock is set to miss up to three months after surgery on an ongoing knee issue, that he said had plagued him for years.
The procedure means Pocock may not return to the Brumbies side until round nine of this Super Rugby season, but a more optimistic prognosis could see him back four rounds into the season.
Pocock played through the issue during the recent 2017-18 Top League season, in which Panasonic finished second, and the 29-year-old said he could have played with the issue on his return, but the ACT franchise was keen to take the safe route rather than risk a longer-term injury.
“It's a problem I've been managing for a while and could've kept managing it and playing but talking to the Brumbies and (surgeon) Peter Myers, we all decided it was probably the best decision to get it sorted now and be right to go for the rest of the year rather than potentially have something happen halfway through the season,” he said
“I've been managing it for ages now. It's something that's been brewing for the last few years I guess.
“It's been manageable but the Brumbies were really keen for me to get it sorted out rather than manage it through the season, which is fair enough.”
Though it might preserve the openside in the long-term, the news is a major blow to the Brumbies on-field, having already missed Pocock for the entire 2017 season with his sabbatical.
Vikings NRC captain Tom Cusack appears would seem likely to step into the seven jersey, with former Force backrower Isi Naisarani and youngster Rob Valetini other promising loose forwards, who could step up as Pocock recovers.
Plenty has changed in Canberra since Pocock’s last Brumbies match - the 2016 quarter-final against the Hurricanes - with a host of personnel changes and former assistant Dan McKellar taking over the coaching rein from Stephen Larkham.
It’s the addition of Laurie Fisher that excites Pocock most about the 2018 season, the 2013 co-coach a key factor in his original decision to join the Brumbies.
“His passion for what he does and his intensity is contagious. He spends hours and hours watching footage, analyzing things, he's always looking for better drills, better ways of doing things,” he said.
“He's honest with his feedback, you know what he expects and if you're not up to scratch, he'll let you know, and you've got to work out a way to get up to standard and I think guys respect that because he is so passionate.”
Fisher’s obsession with rugby will come in stark contrast to Pocock’s experience of the past year, where he had little or no connection to internet, let alone the day-to-day rugby news.
Pocock and partner Emma spent close to six months on Pocock’s grandfather’s farm in Zimbabwe, as well as studying at Harvard Business School and working with conservation group, Wild Ark.
As much as the Brumbies have changed since 2016, Pocock says he’ll also come back with a different view on life, after the better part of a year without rugby.
“I certainly want to make the most of the next two years that I've got with the Brumbies and see what happens after that, I guess,” he said.
“It's given me a sense of perspective on things but you realise how fortunate you are to have the opportunities to do what you do and what a privilege it is.”
In the rare position of having been somewhat isolated from the 2017 Super Rugby dramas, Pocock will come into the Brumbies setup, feeling like he has a clean slate, though he has eased the transition back to sport through his Japan stint.
“That was a big part of wanting to come back via Japan was to get back into rugby but experience a different setup and different approach to the game and I'm really excited to get back into Australian rugby and start with the Brumbies again,” he said.
“It does have a bit of a feel like a fresh start because so much has happened and with so many new faces in the team.”
Part of Pocock’s decision to take what he describes as a ‘gap year’, was keeping his motivation burning for a third Rugby World Cup, and that mission begins now.
“A big part of having a gap year was trying to get there (to 2019) and hopefully playing good rugby and being in a position to be selected and be part of a group that goes back to Japan for that.
“We'll see - there's plenty of rugby to be played before that and I don't really see a benefit in focusing that far ahead.
“A year ago seems like a long time, so the next two years seems like enough to focus on and you'll see what happens after that.”
Pocock and flyhalf Christian Lealiifano will both be back in Canberra on Monday, after stints away from Australia, with Lealiifano finishing a short-term deal with irish side Ulster.
The Brumbies kick off their Super Rugby season against the Sunwolves on Saturday February 24, kicking off at 3:15pm AEDT.