Stephenson has no mental scars ahead of Saints return
Any Saints supporters worried what mental state Tom Stephenson is in after returning from a broken leg need not fear.
“I’ve told the lads to smash me in tackles in training,” Stephenson says, smiling as he surveys the Franklin’s Gardens turf that he hopes to grace again soon.
The talented young centre has had shocking misfortune with injuries in recent times as, having returned from a lengthy foot injury, which saw him tear the ligament off the bone, he suffered the leg break in his second game back.
Stephenson was carrying the ball into contact in last August’s friendly against Rotherham Titans at the Gardens when an opposition player slipped and landed on his leg.
With friendlies attracting fewer fans than competitive fixtures, the noise could be heard around the ground.
It led to widespread concern for Stephenson, who was carried off on a stretcher and saw his leg break confirmed.
“I felt in pretty good shape after having five or six months out with my last injury,” Stephenson reflected. “I felt like I was going well in that game and I was just looking forward to the season.
“Mentally I was realy prepared for the season. I really wanted to grab it with both hands and do well.
“It was a bit of a downer getting that injury. I heard the sound and that’s when I knew it was gone.
“I had three weeks off just getting over the operation and then I was back in doing upper body weights.
“I was doing those weights for the first four months and then I was doing my rehab on my leg for the past two months. Now I’m here.”
Indeed he is.
And how desperate Stephenson is to get back in action.
He has told the coaches he wants to play. Even if it means going out on dual-registration.
And his appetite has been further fuelled by motivational car music...
“I got over it pretty quickly and the past four or five months I’ve been so ready to get back out there,” said the 22-year-old.
“It’s been hard to keep the emotions in tact.
“When you’re driving your car you stick Eminem on and it gets you going.
“It’s been great being back in training. It tires me out, but it’s been good.
“I don’t think I’ve got 80 minutes in me yet, but I just want to play now.
“Whether it’s on loan or it’s at Saints, I just want to get some game time and start enjoying my rugby again.
“I’ve been missing it so much.
“I said to (strength and conditioning coach) Ben (Roe) the other day that this could be the best thing that’s happened to me because it’s really made me hungry to do well now I’m back.”
Having dealt with the five-month foot injury, Stephenson did at least know how to cope with a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
He said: “I tried not to get too down about it. I don’t think it affected me too much. It’s part of the game.
“I coped with it pretty well and I used it as a time to get better.
“I studied the game and worked hard in the gym on the physical side of the game.
“I felt like I coped well and I’m happy to be back now.”
Stephenson has a striking scar on his right knee, where the surgeon went in to fix his leg.
But how about mental scars?
“I see people saying I hope he’s alright because it was three different breaks in my leg,” Stephenson said.
“It was quite a bad injury and they all say ‘is he going to be alright carrying the ball?’ and things like that but that kind of annoys me because I’ve been back since last week and I haven’t even thought about it.
“I’ve been telling people to smash me and stuff to test it out.
“I’m certainly not afraid of the contact and I’m just looking forward to playing my first game somewhere.”
Stephenson has spoken to friends who have had the same injury as him.
But it is clear that he hasn’t been as worried about it as those around him.
“I think a lot of the coaches were scared of how I would react to it,” he said.
“I spoke to (former Saints forward) Matti Williams, who had a similar injury and he said he was worried about people diving at his legs.
“But I’ve said to myself not to even think about it. If it happens, it happens. There’s no point worrying about it.
“This week I’ve been running into contact full bolt and not even thinking about it.
“As soon as you think about it, that’s when it will hold you back.”
Nothing is holding Stephenson back now.
He signed a contract extension last week and when he does get out on the pitch again, there will be plenty of people delighted to see him back.
“I’ve had great support from the fans,” Stephenson said. “It’s nice to know you’re not forgotten about.”