Glasgow Warriors captain Ali Kellock makes his first appearance of the season this evening and the giant second row admits he can’t wait for kick off.
Kellock hasn’t played a competitive fixture since skippering Scotland to an historic series triumph in Argentina in June due to a knee injury but his extended absence will finally come to an end when Glasgow take on Aironi at Firhill.
It’s been a difficult period for the affable 29-year-old, although he insists the support of everyone involved with the Warriors has made it far easier to stay patient and positive.
"My last game was against Argentina in the summer so that’s getting on towards five months now,” said Kellock, who regains the captain’s armband despite tonight being his first game back.
"I'm not a very good spectator because I'd much rather be on the park with the boys. It’s been a frustrating time but I’ve been well looked after and I’m now just looking forward to getting back on the park again.
"It's been a tough time for me over the past few months trying to get back fit again…but I had to be positive. I had to take it day by day and just see how I reacted to the injury, especially when I started to build things up. Once I got back on the bike and once I got back running, it was just about seeing how it reacted to that.
"All in all, it went pretty well. The physios and the fitness staff have been fantastic. I now hope I can use all the hard work I've put in with the physios and fitness staff to my benefit and the team's benefit."
Kellock’s return is a welcome one for a Glasgow side struggling to live up to their strong showing in last season’s Magners League.
The Warriors were one of the success stories of the 2009/10 campaign, finishing third in the league table and reaching the inaugural Magners League Play-Offs.
A narrow defeat at eventual champions the Ospreys ended their superb run but no one could ignore the quality of rugby Kellock and co had produced throughout an outstanding season.
Expectations were understandably heightened following the achievements of last term, but the loss of key players like Dan Parks and Kelly Brown and injuries to central figures such as Kellock, Chris Cusiter and Johnnie Beattie made for a difficult start to the season.
Two wins from their opening seven games isn’t what the Firhill faithful were wanting or expecting but there’s no sense of panic within the Warriors camp.
Kellock admits that improvements must be made, notably in terms of consistency, although he is confident that the introduction of the Play-Off system and the increasingly competitive nature of the Magners League means that challenging for end-of-season honours is still a realistic prospect.
Ali Kellock was named captain of the 2010 Magners League Dream Team
"We need to win more games – we don’t want to be where we are at the moment,” added Kellock.
"We’re at the wrong end of the table, especially in comparison to the season we had last year. But it will come right. I don’t think we’ll be a million miles away.
"We’ve lost too many home games, that’s been the disappointing thing. We’d turned Firhill into a very difficult place to come and play. We’ll get back to that but we’ve definitely learnt some lessons from those losses. We need to be more consistent and play for 80 minutes.
"That was they key to our season last year – the consistency we put into our game. In years before we’d had some great results but couldn’t back them up. First and foremost, we need to get back to winning ways and then we need to find the consistency that’s going to keep us up there.
"But there’s been some fairly big changes in the team so it’s about a bedding-in period. Hopefully we’ll get through that bedding-in period sooner rather than later and get back to the form that we had at home, and away, last year.
"It’s a tight league and everybody’s beating each other so it’s not as if there’s four teams running away with it. If we can get ourselves back on track, we could be right back up there at the top end fairly quickly.
"We got a taste of the Play-Off semi-final last year and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We were beaten by a good Ospreys team but we want to get back there.
"We’ve given ourselves an uphill battle but it’s just a case of focusing on each game as it comes, instead of looking too far ahead."
That one game-at-a-time approach starts in just a few hours time when Aironi arrive in Scotland for the latest installment of Magners League rugby.
The visitors may be propping up the Magners League table but Kellock isn’t expecting an easy time against the Italian newboys, especially up front.
"They’ve got a really strong squad and I’ve watched a lot of their games. Knowing Edinburgh so well, I watched that game and the physical presence that Aironi brought to the game meant they could have turned Edinburgh over.
"We know that the breakdown’s going to be massively important. We’ve got to match their physicality and try and provide our backs with some good ball.”