Exeter Chiefs flanker Tom Johnson has admitted he feared the worst when he suffered a sickening injury against Leinster in the Heineken Cup match at Sandy Park last Saturday.
Johnson was carried off on a stretcher 15 minutes into the 29-20 defeat to the reigning European champions from Ireland, with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
The results of a scan received yesterday showed a grade three medial collateral ligament tear which, while hardly good news and a verdict that could rule him out for around three months, is still much better than Johnson first thought.
He said: "The way it was, the way the Leinster player fell on me, it could have been nine months out, so it's much better than it could have been. It's pretty much fully ruptured. There's a little bit of the ligament still hanging on but I think, all in all, I'll take that.
"I was thinking it was a long-term injury when it happened. At least this means I'll hopefully be back before the end of the season.
"It can be a week either way, depending on the rehab, but there are many things that could happen on the way back. As a very rough estimate, you tend to say ten or 12 weeks, but there's no real way of knowing. I'm just thanking my lucky stars that it's not going to be as long as I thought. Then, hopefully, I can kick on when I get back fit again."
The 30-year-old praised the efforts of the doctors and physiotherapists at the Aviva Premiership club, who ensured he was administered oxygen straight away, and put his leg in a brace.
Apart from the frustration of having to endure the longest enforced break of his career, the timing of this injury is made worse by the fact that Johnson should currently be with the England Elite Player Squad at their Leeds base, preparing for the Six Nations Championship.
He said: "The timing's pretty bad, considering where I should be at the moment. It looks like the Six Nations is out for me now, which is a shame. I was looking forward to the England camp, but at least I've still got my health.
"On the grand scale of things, it's not that bad. It could certainly have been much worse.
"Nothing could have been done about it. It was just one of those freak accidents you get in rugby."
Aside from Johnson's injury, Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter took plenty of encouragement from his side's performance against Leinster.
He believes matching the intensity Exeter showed against the Irish side will enable them to perform better in the Premiership. The Chiefs are currently seventh in the table, four points behind Gloucester in the last Heineken Cup qualification spot.
The league season resumes against Sale Sharks on February 8. Before then, the Devon side face LV= Cup games against Bath and Northampton Saints.
Baxter said: "We just lost momentum in a couple of areas. We kicked badly and that hurt us territorially, and threw away some possession that led to two of their tries.
"That was frustrating but we're playing at a high intensity and you're not going to be perfect. We want to work from a high intensity backwards – rather than looking to make perfect passes and not have intensity – that will not carry you past teams like Leinster.
"The level of performance we put in, in terms of intensity, will hold us in very good stead in the Premiership games. That's what we have to make sure we're doing."