Holm Truths: Andy Hazell ready for action at Gloucester Rugby
The unchartered territory is over, and now Andy Hazell can get on with his impressive Gloucester career.
The evergreen Kingsholm flanker explained how he has learned a lot these past 14 weeks – even if he knew most of it already.
PURGATORY might have brought some important confirmation for Andy Hazell, but it has not changed a thing.
The passionate Gloucester flanker's enforced 14-week competitive exile is over, his conviction spent.
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No more training Monday to Friday, only to watch team-mates excel, err, strive and triumph in battle at the weekend.
The 34-year-old discovered a great deal during his ban for his bevy of punches at Mont de Marsan in October – everything but a concrete opinion on his punishment.
Retirement is not an option – not while his body and mind urge him back to the fray.
Hazell was the alleged victim of eye gouging out in France, hence his heinous reaction.
But not even the terror of a deliberate finger jabbed into an eye is enough to sway Hazell from the field.
The day all that changes is the day he will simply not arrive for Gloucester training.
He is out of contract at the end of the campaign but hopes and expects to continue at his home-town club – and one by-product of the ban could be an extended lease of frontline life.
Still at odds with his hefty censure amid no sanction for the alleged gougers, Hazell admitted he has had to let that anger go.
"I suppose the ban was fair, I don't know what to think of it all really," he explained.
"What I did deserved to be punished, but at the same time what's happened on the pitch hasn't solved anything.
"If I were in that situation again I would hope I could control myself better, and wouldn't repeat what I did out there.
"But like I said at the time, you truly don't know what you will do until you are in that situation.
"It's just a bit disappointing really, how it was all carried out. It's done now though.
"For the first three to four weeks I was a bitter man.
"But I couldn't do anything to change it, I couldn't do anything about it, so it was about looking forward and putting absolutely everything into this week, getting back and playing.
"I'm feeling like I did at the beginning of the season, I'm ready to go.
"The only shame is it takes you out of that match environment, which ultimately you lose that sharpness.
"So I'm really looking forward to getting back into that sharpness as quickly as I can.
"It does feel like trying to make up for lost time.
"But you don't want to push things too hard, try to do too much too soon.
"I'd like to think I'm a bit different from some of the other back-rowers we have, so it's about trying to get into my natural game and do what I do well."
Timing is everything for an openside: the scavenger must be first to every ruck, then strike at the decisive moment to steal the ball.
This is Hazell's expertise in the heat of battle, but now that right-place knack even extends to his return from this ban.
Gloucester's LV=Cup fortnight allows Kingsholm's finest ball hunter the ideal opportunity to play himself into prime form, ahead of a crucial month-long Premiership sequence.
Rugby director Nigel Davies has pitched Hazell straight back into action at the first opportunity this weekend – and Hazell believes that sums up an unwavering support he cannot highlight enough.
Whatever the provocation in France, Hazell's reaction was disproportionate.
Many questions were asked about his angry punching fit, and more on his ugly knee drop – Gloucester bosses did not condone, but at least understood.
That faith has kept Hazell sane, and now he is ready to pay it back – this season and beyond.
He continued: "It would be a big ask to go straight into the Premiership, and because this is new territory for me I can't be completely confident on what stage I'm going to be at when I play.
"My return has come at a great time, and I'm glad that Nigel's put faith in me to give me a start.
"The club have supported me brilliantly and I couldn't have asked for more from them.
"I appreciate that massively, and now I want to repay that faith.
"I'm still at the top end of the squad in terms of fitness, but for me it's about mindset, mentality.
"I'm really, really excited about getting back, I want to get back out there.
"As long as that's right for me everything else fits into place.
"I'll go until I wake up one morning and don't want to come in – until I see something that leaves me thinking I don't want to put my body into that horrible situation.
"As soon as I think that: that's it for me.
"So until that day comes I'll just keep grafting.
"And as long as my mind lasts too, if my body goes first that's the way it is.
"But at the minute, both mind and body are holding up alright, so I'll keep going.
"Obviously I'm no spring chicken anymore, but maybe this time out of matches can help prolong my career.
"For the immediate future though I'm just looking forward to making a nuisance of myself again."