Former Moseley flier Mike Ellery will finally experience lift-off today as the England Sevens squad leave for Hong Kong where they will hope to resurrect their IRB Series challenge and where he will aim to get the next stage of his professional career belatedly off the ground.
The 23-year-old departed Billesley Common last summer, mysteriously tempted away by the bright lights, fast tracks and warm weather on offer to members of Ben Ryan’s set-up, sent on his way by grudging nods that as the fastest ex-falcon around he was ideally suited to the short-sided discipline.
In no time his profile page on RFU.com trumpeted ‘many of his tries for Moseley were scored in Sevens style from long range’ and if ever a move made sense, it was the one that ended his service to the Red and Black cause after two hugely contrasting years.
However, things have been far from smooth, indeed Ellery played just a couple of low key events in Russia and Denmark before it became apparent something was not right.
Scans revealed two stress fractures in his back and at a stage when he should have been revelling in his new-found upward mobility, the No.8 was struggling for mobility of any sort.
“When I was running it felt like my back and hips were jarring together and all the muscles around the area seized up. It didn’t hinder my life, I was walking around and I’d be fine until I started running again and all my mates told me I was faking it.”
Why anyone would fake something to avoid going to sun-kissed Dubai in the frozen depths of the English winter, they did not explain, but what did become clear was that Ellery was suffering the legacy of a broken femur, which had left one leg longer than the other.
“I was faced with two options, I could wait for the fractures to heal, which they originally said would be four to six months, or I could have an operation and be back in three,” he said.
“But the operation would have given rise to a number of problems down the line. It would have meant some metalwork in my back which would not have been great for my future.
“If I’d had a screw put in and it snapped I would not have been able to play again.”
After medical advice he decided the most prudent course of action would be for the natural healing process be given an opportunity. But then bodies work at their own speed and not to demand.
“The worst part of it was not knowing when I would be back,” he said. “(Former Bees captain) Jack Preece did his ACL the same week as my back went but he got back playing a month before me and while I was happy he got back I was like ‘Why am I still in this position?’
“Even then I didn’t have an end date and that was quite a dark time.
“When the boys went away I’d be rehabbing on my own and it was so boring, just going in everyday and doing the same thing. In hindsight I should probably have started a degree and I still might do that.”
But there was even worse to come. As he neared a return in December after everything looked to be better and his orthotics were in place, he broke down again during a gym session.
“I was angry towards the doctors and started thinking I should have had the operation, it would have put me out for three or four months but at least I’d have had an end date.
“But you have to try and find something positive. I thought if I’d been playing XVs I’d have missed threequarters of the season, as it is because the events are so spread out I’ve only missed half.”
Which brings us to Hong Kong and the best and most traditional Sevens tournament on the circuit.
Ellery hopes to make his belated debut, probably off the bench for the last couple of minutes and he could find himself up against a familiar opponent in the shape of another ex-Moseley man.
“We’ve got Scotland in our second game and Michael Maltman will be playing for them. Strangely we played them in my last event in Denmark and they beat us so it’d be good to get some revenge.
“Mike’s no flier so I’d beat him in a foot race, but he’ll have the edge in the scrums.”
Ellery and England face Samoa, Scotland and Portugal, the latter pair having beaten them in Las Vegas in the previous tournament. The week before that Ryan’s men had won it all and taken the Wellington title.
It seems to be feast or famine with the current squad and having not won in Hong Kong for seven years it would take a bold man to predict them ending that run in 2013.
They are currently ninth in the standings with no prospect of achieving their annual pre-series goal of taking the overall title. Nevertheless with the Rugby World Cup Sevens championship taking place in Moscow at the end of June, England and Ellery are hopeful of finding a silver-lining to what has been a cloudy campaign.
“I’m so excited about Hong Kong,” he said. “They’ve given me an opportunity and I’ve just got to make sure I take it.
“I was quite surprised to get picked, I’ve only had a few camps since they got back from Vegas but they’ve told me I’ve done OK, which I am pleased with because I still haven’t played that much Sevens.
“My fitness is the main thing, I have got to get that back because I just want to get into the team.
“We’ve got the dreaded RFU fitness test after we get back which you do twice in front of the whole squad – so that should be interesting.”
Whatever happens then and in the Far East a week tomorrow, Ellery will at least be comforted by the fact he’s finally airborne.