Richard Hibbard happy with the way knee rehab is progressing
Ulster’s Rory Best will be keeping a close eye on the Welsh hooker’s fitness
Hooker Richard Hibbard may count himself one of the lucky ones in Carton House. Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs, along with Hibbard, are the three selected hookers who were preferred by Welsh Coach Warren Gatland to Ulster’s Rory Best. No doubt Best will want to strongly make a claim of sorts to Gatland on Saturday when Ulster face Leinster in the Pro 12 final.
While Hibbard continues to rehab after a recent knee injury, there is little doubt he would prefer to forget his last experiences of travelling Down Under.
During Wales’ 3-0 Test series defeat last summer, the Ospreys frontrow played just 14 minutes of the second match but made an unwanted contribution to the Australian cause when he gave away two critical penalties, the second of which allowed Mike Harris to give Australia a 25-23 victory with the last kick of the match.
As a result Hibbard was dropped from the squad for the third Test and his international future appeared to be in serious doubt.
Damage to a medial ligament in his knee playing against Glasgow for the Ospreys last month ensured his path was a straight one back to full fitness and at this stage there is little reason for Best to believe there is an opening for possible inclusion.
The Welsh hooker has been enjoying his stay in Ireland and is intent on proving his fitness for the tour.
“I’m pleased with the way it’s going,” he said. “My knee is very strong. We have great physios at the Ospreys and with luck I’ll be going at full tilt soon. I’ll be back at the end of the week. I’m not far off now. I should be ready for the first game.
“It was definitely a dark moment after I did it,” he added. “When the injury happened I thought I was cursed. I’m cursed with injury all the time.
“Afterwards I learned that it wasn’t so bad and there were possibilities. It was more positive than negative . . . it would have been just murder (if the injury had been worse). Now I’m here and it’s amazing. It’s a great experience.”
To be fair to the Welshman he responded well to the Australian misfire and captured Gatland’s attention when he produced some of the finest form of his career, combining some rock solid set-piece play with his typical rampaging charges in the loose.
There is something of the Cian Healy and Seán Cronin about the 29-year-old, who now has 23 Test matches for Wales.
“Everyone is the same on the squad, just the accents are different,” he explained after his first few days in training. “You pick up little things that you didn’t realise you were missing. It’s been good I think we’ve been gelling quite quick.”
But it is not just Best who may feel sharply disappointed about his omission. Hibbard points out that, while he may have taken one of the places the Ulsterman believed was his, others have had to face being crushed.
“You measure the strength of the squad by the players that are omitted really,” he said.