Richard Hibbard has revealed how his new hobby has helped him report back for pre-season training in what he considers to be the 'best shape I've ever been in'.
The 25-year-old hooker was one of nine players who returned to training last week after spending the early part of the summer on tour with the national squad in the USA and Canada, but unlike many of his team-mates, Hibbard opted against spending a few weeks in the sun during his break, deciding instead to focus on ensuring he was in peak condition when he joined the rest of the Ospreys squad for pre-season.
As he explains, having developed an interest in kayaking, he quite happily swapped the Spanish Costa's for some sessions on Aberavon beach that he believes will give him that extra edge when the season gets underway in September. He said: "I didn't have a holiday this summer, I've worked right through as I wanted to work on my conditioning and make sure that I reported back in good shape. I had lots of sessions prepared for me by the coaching team, focusing on areas that they felt I needed to work on, but I've also spent a lot of time kayaking which has been a huge benefit to me.
"I bought myself a kayak and I've been going out in Aberavon every day. When I first had it, there was novelty value and I was going out for three or four hours, but now I'm in a routine where I spend a couple of hours a day kayaking. I've got my life jacket on and a fishing rod in the kayak and off I go!
"It's good fun, and when you're enjoying it you don't realise the amount of hard work you're actually doing so it's been a great help. It's pretty hard going in the kayak, especially the way the weather has been, it's not been too calm out there, but I enjoy it and it's helped me to report back for pre-season in good shape. Coming back in shape means that pre-season has been pretty painless, it's that much easier when you've already done the base work. Now I have to keep driving forward with the same energy levels for the season ahead.
"I'm feeling great, I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in and I think I'm more excited about the new season than I have been about any season in my career."
Having been selected for Wales' summer tour, where he took his total tally of caps to nine, Hibbard is hoping to secure a regular place in both the Ospreys starting line-up and the national squad over the coming season. He says that he's not worrying himself about the competition for places, only his own personal performance. Get that right, and the rewards will come he says:
"I've got to target being first choice Ospreys hooker, and aim to start in the Heineken Cup games. If I manage that then I can only hope that Welsh selection will take care of itself. I seem to always be in the mix for the summer tour and then get forgotten about during the season so I've got to try and put that right. I'm not worried about the competition for places, that's just part of rugby. What is important is continuous improvement in my own game. I'm aware that there are areas for development, that'll always be the case, but I'm working hard with the coaches to put these things right. I think last season I improved as a player considerably but I realise that I have to continue improving if I'm going to nail a regular starting place and send the right messages to the national coaches.
"Like I said, I'm really excited about the new season, it's an important year for me and I'm really looking forward to it. Scott Johnson's brought a new buzz about the place, a new philosophy and approach to our way of playing that I think suits me so I'm really optimistic."
In addition to his playing duties, Hibbard has also committed to weekly coaching sessions with the Ospreys age-grade sides, taking a regular line-out session at Llandarcy, which he says will allow him to give something back to youngsters hoping to following his footsteps:
"I was asked to do a couple of sessions last season and I really enjoyed it, so we've made it a permanent thing for this season. The age-grade boys have their sessions really early before they go to college for the day so it means I'm starting my week extra early but it'll be good experience for me. Every Monday morning at seven I'll be coaching lineout throwing before going into my regular training day.
"It's too early for me to think about long term coaching aims, I hope to be playing for a few years yet but it's a step in the right direction. As someone who was born and bred in the region and was a young Osprey myself, it's good to be able to give something back to the youngsters. I'd like to think that the boys will learn from me and pick up a few things that will help with their development, so if I can make a difference and help them in some way towards making the grade then fantastic."
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.