The former Worcester prop damaged his knee in pre-season

Long-term injury: Gareth Milasinovich on getting hurt before his Ulster debut

“It’s tough enough to start at a new club and being fit, let alone getting injured in your first week,” Gareth Milasinovich says.

South African by birth and a new recruit from Worcester, Milasinovich had reason to be excited about starting out with Ulster this season – grandfather Norman McFarland played for them, his mother was born in Belfast and the ambitious prop is Ireland-qualified too. But three days into his first-ever pre-season with the province, the 26-year-old fell awkwardly after going in for a low-contact tackle and tore his ACL.

He explains the moment: “You are trying to show everyone what you’re good at and show everyone what you’re about, only to be cut down so early on in the start of the new job.

“The first thought is ‘surely not’. It doesn’t hit you at first. You sort of don’t believe it initially until you get the results of the scan back and it’s confirmed what it was. Initially they thought I’d done my lateral meniscus cartilage. So then you think, ‘Okay, it’s not the greatest way to start but at least this may just be six weeks – it’s not too bad’. And then we find out that it’s the ACL, which is a nine-month slog. It’s quite tough to face.”

No long-term injury is a good one to get, obviously. But it may feel that much rougher because you are at a brand-new club.

Long-term injury: Gareth Milasinovich

Big moment: Ulster celebrate their win over Clermont this season (Getty Images)

“It definitely makes it even harder,” Milasinovich reflects. “You’re new to the whole system, how everything goes, how everything works. You don’t know the medical team that well yet or any of your team-mates particularly well. You start at the deep end.”

Despite your family history or professional aspirations, moving country for a new gig takes a certain type of focus. Everything is already unfamiliar. Milasinovich is thankful that his new squad mates made a point of coming round to support him, getting to know him at this vulnerable time. “There’s definitely a good support base,” he adds of the club.

It also helped that he has family in the area too. Immobilised at first, it was good to have relations to look out for him until his other half hastily moved over to Northern Ireland from England, something she had not expected to do so soon.

Long-term injury: Gareth Milasinovich

As well as team-mates, Milasinovich gives a shout-out to S&C coach Shane Carney and physio Peter Scullion, his co-conspirators in the plot to get back on the pitch. The ultimate aim is to get him fit, Milasinovich admits, but they do so much to lift his spirits regularly too.

As Gloucester centre Henry Trinder points out in our recent in-depth look at long-term injury – in the current issue of Rugby World magazine – the support of peers and even advice from outsiders who have had similar experiences can be a comfort.

Related: Rugby World magazine’s all-stars edition

Still the newbie, between rehab sessions Milasinovich has still tried to contribute to the cause, to help the team out.

He explains: “I’m coming from the Premiership and we’ve got two English Premiership teams in the Champions Cup pool stages. You know, scrumming-wise I’ve been able to contribute a bit there (with analysis), which has been nice. You get to feel a part of things which is always good, especially when you’re out injured for so long. You’re still contributing to the team in some form.”

And in those moments, what have you learnt about your new team? “One thing I’ve been really impressed with is how fit they are here. And there is a heavy emphasis on making sure you keep your skills as sharp as possible. Another good positive thing with long-term injuries is that you have some fun skill drills run by Sopes (skills coach Dan Soper) every day.

Long-term injury: Gareth Milasinovich

On the charge: Carrying into Gloucester in 2017 (Getty Images)

“That’s something different from the constant rehab and the Wattbike. It’s something fun and entertaining to do to take your mind off the injury and it obviously improves you as a player, improves your skill-set. So that’s been really good.

“There’s an unbelievable work ethic here. From players to staff, everyone works as hard as they can, continuously. That’s something I’ve picked up on.”

That work ethic has told so far this season, with big wins coming in the Guinness Pro14 and in the Champions Cup. Yet people at the province won’t get carried away, with some remembering that while last season had a promising start too, the wheels fell off in the knockout rounds in Europe and the league.

Maybe a little bit of help from those on the sidelines and the energy from all of their newcomers can push them that little bit further.

To read our long read on long-term injury, check out the new issue of Rugby World.

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