Calum Clark joined his Northampton Saints team-mates when they reported back for pre-season on Tuesday but has admitted that the wait to play again while he serves the remainder of his 32 week ban will be hard.
It is less than a month since last season concluded, and still nearly two-and-a-half before the first Aviva Premiership game.
August 10, when Northampton play their first friendly against Italian side Zebre, perhaps can’t come soon enough, but the date marked in the flanker’s diary will be November 1.
That is the day that his suspension finally expires for hyper-extending the arm of Leicester Tigers hooker Rob Hawkins in March’s LV= Cup final.
Much has been said, written and discussed about the incident and the aftermath, and Clark admits it has been a tough time for him.
But he has been keeping his head down and took time out from the rigours of pre-season on Tuesday to help launch the club’s HITZ programme – a new project which uses rugby to inspire young people at risk of exclusion and anti-social behaviour.
“I’m doing pre-season along with everyone, but mine’s just going to be a couple of months longer so I’ve just got to use it to the best advantage I can,” explained the 23-year-old.
“You’re in, you’re full on and we’ll be training really hard. I’ll be doing everything that everyone else is doing but two months more of it. It’ll be tough, but I’ll get on with it.”
Last season was another case of so near yet so far for Northampton. They were eliminated from the Premiership semi-finals in heartbreaking fashion away to Harlequins, while also losing to East Midlands rivals Leicester in the LV= Cup final.
Clark memorably used social networking site Twitter to announce that his runners-up medal from that game was going straight into the bin, and feels that the Saints still have key areas to improve on.
He said: “I think that the team started out its journey when they came up to the Premiership and we’ve been developing from then.
“Last season we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve, but we’ve got to work hard to try to put that right.
“It was a bit of a disjointed season in a way, with injuries and everything else, but that’s the nature of a club like this that is ambitious and wants to get players playing at the top level.
“We as a team probably have to do better when those guys are away and that’s one of the big focus points for us this year.”
As always, there will be several new faces around the squad with Luther Burrell, Ken Pisi, Cameron Shepherd, Sam Dickinson and Gerrit-Jan van Velze moving to Franklin’s Gardens.
The clubhave also lost long-serving players like James Downey, Roger Wilson, Jon Clarke and Chris Ashton, but Clark believes that the Saints are strong enough to overcome those departures.
He said: “Those guys were important parts of the development and the journey of the team, but if guys want to leave then you don’t hold it against them and thank them for everything that they have done.
“All of the lads who have left did a lot for the Saints and we’re welcoming in new faces you trust the judgement and the recruitment to fill the boots of those who have left.”