Dylan Hartley says his seven-week spell on the sidelines due to concussion was ‘hell’ - and he admits he felt like a ‘hanger-on’ at Saints.
The England captain returns to the squad for today’s crucial final game of the season, at Gloucester.
Hartley has been named among the replacements and if, as expected, he plays a part in the match, it will be his first club appearance since the win at Scarlets on January 23.
The 30-year-old started every game for England during the Six Nations, skippering his country to the Grand Slam.
But he was knocked unconscious in the final match, in France, and has been undertaking concussion protocols ever since.
And ahead of today’s trip to Kingsholm, Hartley wrote in his column in The Sun: “After the heavenly highs of lifting the Six Nations trophy, these last seven weeks have been hell.
“The Grand Slam ceremony is still a bit of a blur and suffering from concussion felt like I was stuck in purgatory.
“I was in limbo. I couldn’t train, felt rubbish and it was like I had no purpose.
“Even though the medical care I’ve had has been world class - the symptoms I experienced have been tough to deal with.
“It’s weird, I wasn’t getting that physical release or rush from training or playing and the mental side of dealing with concussion was also driving me crazy.
“I came into training at Northampton, saw my mates and thought everything was good because there is such a buzz about the place.
“But really, it was like I was some kind of hanger-on at my own club.
“As soon as I walked through the door at home and I was with my girlfriend Jo and the baby I felt a bit useless because I needed to take things easy.
“I had no get up and go and have only just turned the corner in the last fortnight.
“I’ve now got that smile back on my face and training out on the pitch with the boys has been amazing for my mind and body. The return to play has gone well and I’ve had about 10 days to get ready to face Gloucester on Saturday.”
Following the incident at the Stade de France, Hartley admitted that he couldn’t remember lifting the Six Nations trophy.
And he has revealed that his celebrations were low key.
“I didn’t have that big blow out like a few of the England lads did after we won the Six Nations,” Hartley said.
“And in a way, I don’t think it’s really properly sunk in yet. I’m sure I will look back at it with great fondness when I’ve hung my boots up, even though I still can’t remember bits of it.
“But right now I’m so hungry for that tour (of Australia in June) with the England boys.
“Because of the KO and not playing since March I’m so ready to go down there and prove to the southern hemisphere that we are closing that gap.
“When Australia come together they are one of ultimate forces in world rugby. The Wallabies and All Blacks are the benchmark of where we need to get to.
“The next step is to press against No.2 because we can’t play the Kiwis yet because Wales are going down there this summer.
“I had a sit down with (England boss) Eddie Jones a few weeks back and we talked about the tour - what we could improve on from the Six Nations to other off-field stuff.
“There’s a big carrot here in front of us who will wear that Red Rose shirt and we can all have a bite of it if we keep stepping up.”
But Hartley’s immediate priority is helping Saints beat Gloucester as his club look to cement a place in the top six and secure a Champions Cup spot for next season.
“With Saints, our fate is in our hands today,” he said. “If we win then we’re playing in those big Champions Cup games next year with the best clubs from around Europe.
“The bar has always been set high here at Franklin’s Gardens and we expect to finish in the top four. So we have fallen well short.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me and the boys that much if we had played well this season. But, truth be told, we’ve not been our best.
“That’s a season gone and you don’t get many in your career. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a waste, but an underachievement.
“I’ve been at fault, I’ve not done my bit. So let’s hit that big reset button over the summer, look at ourselves honestly and come back next season ready to sort it out.”