THE first winners of the United Rugby Championship are yet to be decided but Dragons prop Lloyd Fairbrother is already counting down to the start of the new season.

The tighthead endured a year on the comeback trail in 2021/22 after rupturing his left Achilles in May, 2021.

The 30-year-old Cornishman went through the wringer emotionally and physically on the comeback trail but got a huge psychological lift on May 13 after just shy of a year on the sidelines.

Fairbrother was only on for seven minutes against Cardiff, but it was a vital spell back on the field for the front rower.

“It was such a long-term injury and I didn’t want it to seep into the summer and pre-season, to be still wondering,” he admitted.

“I got to nine or ten months and was running and scrummaging. I could have even got back a little bit earlier but there are so many boxes to tick.

South Wales Argus: CHARGE: Lloyd Fairbrother carrying hard on his returnCHARGE: Lloyd Fairbrother carrying hard on his return

“You get to the stage where really you’ve just got to get into it and give it a go. I was close to returning for a while and maybe could have done the Ospreys, but I was ready for Cardiff and enjoyed that 10 minutes.

“I targeted getting back for something and I did that with the Cardiff game and then played against the Lions as well… at loosehead! It was just great to be back and especially at Rodney Parade in front of the fans.

“Now I can have a bit of an off season, but not too much so that I can fly into pre-season knowing that I am back.”

Fairbrother is a Dragons stalwart and only two props, Adam Black and Phil Price, can beat his 144 appearances for the region.

However, he spent most of last season watching on after the nightmare injury against Glasgow at Cardiff City Stadium in the Rainbow Cup, when he was up against his now teammate Aki Seiuli.

South Wales Argus: Dragons prop Lloyd FairbrotherDragons prop Lloyd Fairbrother

“It was in a scrum, it moved awkwardly and I just put my foot back. I just felt a massive pop and there was a really big burning feeling,” said Fairbrother.

“I had completely ruptured the Achilles, it had gone from top to bottom. A week later I had the operation, then there was two months in a boot, two months in a cast, then learning to walk again.

“There were times when I was in denial but then reality hit and from then it was just a case of hard graft, getting into the rehab with mini steps. It has been a tough one, physically and emotionally.”

The Dragons have made nine new signings for next season and Fairbrother will be like a fresh face after his 2021/22 was a near write-off.

He is confident that he will be able to fly into the new campaign after working his way back to full fitness.

“It was my inside foot for a tighthead and that was why I didn’t quite get back as quickly as I could, it was the scrummaging,” said Fairbrother, who helped win a penalty on his first set-piece against Cardiff.

“I did the three-mans, five-mans, eight-mans, live, non-live. I wanted to do all of it to get properly back, and that takes time. It’s mental as well as physical, but I am there now.

“I feel fresh and I was gutted that the season ended! I will have a little bit of a break but I don’t want to blow all of the hard work that I have done.

“I will take it a little bit easy but I want to hit pre-season running. We have got some brilliant signings coming in, especially in the front row, so we will see where that takes us.”

South Wales Argus: CARRY: Lloyd Fairbrother gets smashed by the Lions defenceCARRY: Lloyd Fairbrother gets smashed by the Lions defence

The Dragons signed Mesake Doge after Fairbrother’s blow but the Fijian has now left, leaving the Cornishman to resume his battle with Wales prop Leon Brown and Chris Coleman.

“Chrissy has been building nicely for a few years but last season I really saw him mature as a young prop,” said Fairbrother.

“His understanding of the scrum and work around the pitch really came on, I have been impressed and he has gone from being an academy boy to a senior who is serious competition.

“With Leon and me champing at the bit, competition will be fierce on the tighthead side.”

Fairbrother wore 18 against Cardiff, 17 against the Lions and is ready to win back the 3 jersey in September.