Jamie Roberts is relishing the chance to be back involved with Wales
Jamie Roberts returns to the Wales side this weekend and admits watching the autumn internationals from the sidelines was a bitter pill to swallow.
When I first found out I was injured and I was missing the autumn, the Six Nations was the next big target for me
The giant centre has struggled with knee and ankle problems since joining French club Racing Metro from Cardiff Blues last summer but is now fit to start for Warren Gatland's men in the RBS 6 Nations opener with Italy.
Saturday's clash with the Azzurri is the first step for Wales as they look to secure what would be a historic treble of Championship titles. Gatland may be without the experienced Ryan Jones and Ian Evans in the pack but the availability of Roberts is a huge boost to the defending champions. He partners the inform Scott Williams in midfield against Jacques Brunel's side and failed to hide his delight at the prospect of running back out at the Millennium Stadium.
"Having missed the autumn, I found it very hard watching - I can assure you of that," said the 27-year-old.
"It's nice to have the chance to play again. When I first found out I was injured and I was missing the autumn, the Six Nations was the next big target. I've always kept that in the back of my mind as I've been doing my rehab. I had a bit of a hiccup with my knee injury but I'm thrilled to be back in this Welsh team.
"I've played alongside these boys for the last three, four or five years. We're a well-oiled machine and I think that's a good way of putting it, especially after the last two campaigns. We know if we get our big players fit and firing then we're a dangerous outfit."
After Italy got the better of both France and Ireland in last year's campaign, a win over the men in blue is no longer a foregone conclusion. Having said that, Roberts reckons Wales must embrace the tag of favourites for this year's title.
"This first game up is a huge test. Italy as we say every year are a vastly improving team and looking back two years ago, it took us a good 60 or 70 minutes to crack them," he said.
"There is no doubt it will be the same this weekend, they're a tough outfit with some very serious players.
"But there is a lot of experience in the squad and after the last two Six Nations campaigns, we go into this one full of confidence. We're favourites, rightly so, and we have to train and prepare that way. Warren has spoken about having a strut and being confident as well as humble but we have to go out and express ourselves and not go into our shells on the pitch."
Roberts warmed up for this Saturday's Six Nations opener by helping his club side to a morale-boosting 25-5 win over Toulouse at the Stade de France. Domestic teammates Mike Phillips and Dan Lydiate were also to the fore in that victory, a game which gave Roberts a timely boost going into the next few weeks.
He added: "It was a new thing for me going back to play at the weekend but the timing was good, especially after my knee injury. It was nice to be able to play in a big game leading into the Six Nations.
"To play at the Stade de France and beat Toulouse quite comfortably was nice and it was a big confidence booster for me, Mike and Dan. I've suffered a bit of bad luck with injuries but you just have to chuck yourself back in and I was delighted to come back unscathed."
With back-to-back clashes with Italy and Ireland on the horizon, Roberts is now firmly focused on international duty. It all starts with the Italians with lock Alun Wyn Jones leading Wales out on Saturday. Roberts joined Jones on the successful British & Irish Lions tour last summer, with the Wales lock skippering the Lions to the third Test win over Australia.
"I've played with Alun for a long time now and he plays with his heart on his sleeve," said Roberts.
"He is 110 per cent in everything he does, whether that's training or playing. One of the best ways to lead is to lead by example and I remember his speech before the third Test with the Lions and it sent the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
"To see a bloke who is literally in tears giving a speech, I remember that very, very vividly. He's a very passionate Welshman and deserves to have the captaincy."
On the prospect of forming a new centre partnership with Williams, the Racing Metro man added: "Scott is one of the most improved players in Welsh rugby and he's taken another step forward this year. His performances for his region have been up there with some of the best in Europe this year.
"He shone during the autumn and is a good distributor, a good rugby player and hopefully we can put him into some space. If you give him a sniff, he's a dangerous finisher so I'm looking forward to playing alongside him as part of a strong and experienced back line."
Wales Under 18 captain Callum Bradbury is delighted to have seen his side claim a narrow 18-17 victory against a strong SA Schools 'A' side to end the three-match Under 19 International Series in South Africa on a high note.
The Wales U18 squad spent an emotional day in the drug-riddled townnship of Hout Bay. Hout Bay Warriors President Fred Johannes said the visit was 'the talk of the town' and will dream about the day everyday for the rest of his life.
RGC 1404's new head coach Mark Jones is hoping to build 'something special' in north Wales and is already looking forward to the development region participating in the Principality Premiership for the very first time.
A joint venture between the WRU and Admiral saw hundreds of children enjoy the Admiral Festival of Rugby held at the National Centre of Excellence at the weekend where Welsh internationals Sam Warburton, Scott Williams and Rob Evans were in attendance.
Wll Jones leads Wales U18s into battle this afternoon against Italy where the Welsh side will be seeking to bounce back from their narrow defeat to SA Schools in their opening clash of the U19 International Series
All four regions attended a successful training camp staged last weekend at the WRU National Centre of Excellence. It was a chance for new Wales Women's head coach Rowland Phillips to deliver his key messages to players and coaches as he prepares for the new season.
Wales U18 Team Manager Gethin Watts believes the next couple of weeks will be 'extremely beneficial' to the future of Welsh rugby as his side prepare to take part in the Under 19 International Series being staged in South Africa.
The WRU is searching for 12 new rugby development apprentices following a successful first year of its WRU Coach Core programme. Craig Duncan and Jess Hancock have flourished in the first year of the programme which has given them a real direction in their lives.
The WRU signed TV comedian Rhod Gilbert up to a 'Coaching Children Level 1' course before letting him loose on an U8s side at Whitland Junior Borderers - we went behind the scenes to film the making of 'Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience' see the results here.
Llandovery are aiming to make it three titles in a row in this year's Foster's National 7s being held at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday 28 August. Drovers assistant coach Simon Davies and Lee Rees assess their sides chances
A pioneering strength and conditioning programme has been delivered to more than 8000 boys and girls at hub schools throughout Wales this season, helping to develop stronger, more flexible athletes for rugby and other sports.
The Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Series returns to the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on July 22nd when all four Welsh regions go head to head. Scarlets skills coach Dai Flanagan and Blues Elite Performance Pathway Manager Richard Hodges along with current Welsh squad members were at the launch of this season's event