COMING down to earth with a bump after an exhilarating experience can be bad enough. Coming down to earth with two bulging discs in your back and excruciating pain shooting down one of your legs is an altogether different order of disappointment.

A late call-up for the 2017 Lions tour was the high point to date of Allan Dell’s career. He only made one appearance off the bench, but it was recognition of how well the prop had been playing for Edinburgh and Scotland, and when he returned home he was looking forward to hitting the ground running. Instead, he effectively hit the ground hobbling, and although he tried to play through the pain at the start of last season, in the end he needed two operations – one on his back and another on a groin tear.

The 26-year-old made his comeback for Edinburgh in the spring and toured with Scotland in the summer, but only now is he approaching the form that first saw him capped two years ago. The timing could not be more opportune: Pierre Schoeman, who had become Richard Cockerill’s first choice for the No.1 jersey, is out suspended for Friday’s league match against the Cheetahs and the two Champions Cup games that follow, and the coach has made it clear that he is now relying on Dell to fill the void.

“I’m starting to enjoy my rugby, but I’m still a long way off where I used to be,” is Dell’s own assessment. “So I just need to make sure I keep working and not get frustrated. You know what you used to do and what you expect, and you have to build back up to that.

“The stuff that happened after the Lions was extremely disappointing – the body just wasn’t kind to me. When I got off the plane from New Zealand I had two bulging discs in my back.

“I couldn’t do anything. It’s frustrating, because you try everything you can, but if you can’t even put your socks on in the morning then you don’t know what to do.

“Most athletes and rugby players, if you go for a scan you’ll have bulges in your back, but I was just unfortunate that mine was hitting the nerve going down to the foot, so I had no power down my hamstring. There was pain always shooting, and just bending over to try and put my sock on brought a sharp pain.

“I tried to let it settle down naturally, but just trying to run or jump meant there was pain shooting down the back, so I had an operation. Plus I tore my left groin and had to get an operation to reconstruct that. I had those two operations back to back in the space of ten days, I think it was.”

Dell quickly became known as one of the most outgoing and approachable members of the Edinburgh squad when he joined the team four years ago, and that cheery disposition is still very much in evidence. But, while he can see the results of hard work in his improving fitness and form, he admits that the injuries, and the normal wear and tear of front-row rugby, have taken their toll.

“I’m 26, which is still young, but my body probably feels a lot older than a 40s body. Everybody is looking after me well and I’m starting to feel quite fresh. These last few weeks I’ve been getting out of the bed in the morning without pain.

“I’m starting to feel like a young buck again. Managing the body is extremely important, because I took that side for granted.You appreciate it when you start getting your body right again. You can actually enjoy your rugby again. You know how it is when you’re younger - you just get up and start running and you’re fine.”

He is up and running again now, though, and feeling finer by the day. If there is a downside to his recovery, it is the need to take greater care with his diet. Born and brought up in South Africa, he acquired a liking for certain items of Scottish cuisine when he moved here in 2014, and there is an element of good-humoured regret in his voice when he explains he has to abstain from them now.

“Definitely shortbread,” he says when asked his favourite food. “And breakfast. I like my breakfast, mate – tattie scones. Biltong? I’ve gone away from that.

“I like the full breakfast with the haggis, the black pudding, and a scone afterwards with the clotted cream and the jam. But that has gone now. I’m taking my diet seriously again.”