Tommy Bowe was back in more familiar territory today, returning to the Ospreys nest for pre-season training after impressing in a Lions jersey over the summer.
After taking part in a series of tough physical tests under the watchful eye of Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Bennett, Bowe reflected on his first training session of the pre-season, commenting that the joys of a summer break are soon forgotten once the training kit is back on. He said: "I've had a great five weeks off, it's good to get away and shut yourself off, it allows you to recharge the batteries and get your focus and enthusiasm back for the new season. I've just had a very long season, and with the British and Irish Lions coming at the end of it, there were boys coming back to the Ospreys for pre-season when we hadn't even finished the last one. That shows what a long year it has been. After finishing the tour, it's been good to just shut off for a few weeks and forget about rugby for a while, I've been to Las Vegas and New Orleans and I've really enjoyed my break.
"We've reported back today and it's been a difficult session, we've come straight back into testing. It's very tough physically, especially after a few weeks away but this is where the hard work starts again for the new season. It comes as a bit of a shock to the system but it's surprising, you can just step straight back into it with a bit of effort. It's great to be back amongst the boys, the craic is already there and a few laughs help you to forget about the pain of pre-season and helps to ease you back in to the swing of things."
As Bowe looks forward to his second season as an Osprey, he says that it's difficult to believe how his fortunes have rocketed since making the switch from Ulster, but, having enjoyed success on the international scene, he says he is determined to ensure that it's the Ospreys that hit the heights this time around.
He explained: "It's been an incredible twelve months personally. The move from Ulster was a big gamble for me but it's worked out better than I could ever have hoped. Obviously, the Grand Slam with Ireland and the Lions tours are the standouts for me, not just for the season, but probably, of my lifetime. Generations of Irish rugby players have dreamt of winning a Grand Slam, and so many supporters have willed it to happen every year, so to be able to be a part of that success was special. To start every game, is just unbelievable, a real honour. To then enjoy the Lions tour was a real bonus. When you think back to where I was when I arrived at the Ospreys twelve months ago, I couldn't have dreamt that a year later, I would not only be selected the Lions tour but would start all three tests, it's just incredible. "The move to the Ospreys has been fantastic for me, it took me out of my comfort zone and training and playing in this environment, with plenty of good players has allowed me to improve my game and I've been able to enjoy the reward in international rugby. The only disappoint last season was the way that our season faded out at the Ospreys because we didn't hit the standards that we expect of ourselves.
"Priority number one this time around has to be to put that right and make sure we reach the right standards consistently. A tough pre- season will get everyone in shape and we have to really show what we can do. Our supporters deserve success, they have backed us in numbers through everything last season and it would be great if we can reward them for that support by matching the expectation that there is on us. "It's going to be a tough season, that much is clear. The Magners League play-offs mean that there will be a real edge to that competition this year. With three of last year's Heineken Cup semi-finalists coming from the Magners League, the quality of the competition is clear. We also have a tough Heineken Cup group, with excellent sides in our group who will have ambitions of their own about progressing, but we realise that we have to be there challenging in these matches, reaching the standard that is expected of us. We showed at times last season what we are capable of, and we know what is expected of us, and what we have to do on a consistent basis if we are going to achieve our targets."
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.