THREE-AND-A-HALF years ago Andy Buist was told he would never play professional rugby again - last weekend he lined up for Tynedale.
The former Newcastle Falcons loose forward was forced into premature retirement in March 2010 aged 25, following a series of three knee operations in 18 months.
If fate had played a more favorable hand however, he could have been lining up for the Lions this summer - at the Falcons, Buist was ahead of Geoff Parling in the pecking order.
A high-profile switch to London Irish also beckoned before he was forced into retirement and turned his attentions to a coaching career but, determined to defy medical advice, Buist has made a shock return in National League One.
Buist is well aware the damage to his articular bone cartilage is no less severe than the day he retired, but the feeling of running out onto the pitch is ample reward for the considerable downside.
"Even this time last year I didn't think I could do it," he said. "The damage isn't better - it hasn't improved. It can't heal but my body has been able to manage it better.
"It is a different kind of start to the season than I have had probably ever - it is exciting for different reasons.
"It was about four-and-a-half or five years since I had played a game of rugby and it was a bit of a shock to the system.
"I started getting less reaction in the knee and it got to the point where I could manage it. I guess that stupid rugby player inside me said 'if you can do this, then why not?'
"The one thing I have got is the advantage of being able to control what I can do. There have been no issues with the knee - because the level is a little bit lower than it was before, I can step back and manage my body.
"As well as actually playing, one of the things I missed most was being constantly tired.
"It is completely different when you are training with a group and you have coaches who are pushing you beyond your comfort zone.
"I do feel that I am getting there and improving. I am very much just focusing on what I can do and making sure I am not letting everyone down."
Buist's decision to link up with Tynedale was partly geographical - he lives in the North East - and a result of his close ties with Newcastle Falcons.
He is passionate about furthering the progress of rugby in the region - helped by Newcastle's return to the Premiership - and about Tynedale's chances this season.
"It is just fantastic having that top-level rugby back in the area," he added. "I think it will really boost attendances and crowds and the North East is going to play a part in the World Cup, with St James' Park being a venue. It is a good time to be involved in rugby in the North East.
"On a community level we are trying to get all the local clubs involved and we are expecting a big influx after the World Cup.
"It is a good community club and I already knew a few of the lads there. I can enjoy the rugby for what rugby is all about. A bit of craic and banter and a few beers after the game - that is what I wanted.
"What Tynedale do very well is playing a fast, expansive game. I am excited and I think we have a very strong team."
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