With the opening pre-season fixture against Leeds Carnegie now just days away, Jamie Nutbrown says he can't wait to pull the Ospreys shirt on again as he looks to stake a claim for a place in the starting XV when the Magners League season kicks off in under three weeks.
The former Junior All Black, who arrived the region a little under a year ago from the Chiefs, says that as much as he enjoys pre-season training, nothing beats the enjoyment of actually playing. He commented: "I'm really looking forward to the Leeds game. We've had four or five weeks of hard work in training but you can't beat playing and I think we all can't wait for next Saturday. You can work as hard as you like in training, that only takes you so far, you need to be playing to get match fit, match sharp. I've always enjoyed pre-season for what it is, but you can't beat the real thing, which is to be playing.
"We've got two tough games against good sides in Leeds and Gloucester ahead of the start of the Magners League so it'll be good to be able to put into action some of things we've been working on and see how they go. Training has been good. It's been great to have some new ideas, some new voices in training from Johnno and Benny and the boys have responded well. We've worked hard and gelled well, but it's all about how it comes together on the day, so we are all pretty keen to get stuck into these two games over the next couple of weekends, which will be a good indicator for where we are right now."
Having made his Ospreys debut against Cardiff Blues last September, just days after arriving in the country from New Zealand, Nutbrown was hit by a series of niggling injuries that restricted him to just 14 appearances throughout the season. However, he says that he's now feeling better than at any time since arriving at the region, and suggests that supporters will see more of the player who was on the fringes of the full All Black squad just last year:
"I'd agree that people here haven't seen the best of me. I didn't really have a good season last year in terms of injuries, it was stop-start for me right from the very off really, so this year I want to start the ball rolling from the first whistle. There's definitely more to come from me. Looking back, I came here a year ago off the back of the Super 14, straight into a few games and then picked up a foot injury and I was never quite right. If you don't get the chance to build up match fitness you find yourself susceptible to injury and I struggled a bit last year, missing quite a lot of game time with chest and shoulder injuries. I wouldn't say it was a write-off, but because of the injuries I don't feel I showed what I'm all about and I want to
make up for lost time.
"It's been good this year to have a proper off-season, enjoy a good break to come back fresh and get a good pre-season in, so I can head into the new season in good shape. Hopefully now, starting with the Leeds game, I can get a good run of games in and show the real me, let people see what I'm capable of as it's disappointing to think back to last season and how injuries restricted the impact I could have for the Ospreys."
The battle for the number nine shirt at the Ospreys is sure to be an intriguing one, with Mike Phillips having made such an impact with the British & Irish Lions in South Africa and the summer arrival of Liam Davies from Brive. Nutbrown for one, is relishing the competition, which he says will force him to improve his own game:
"Having Mike around is a real positive for me. He's a great player who has done really well this summer with the Lions and is right on top of his game. It's a good challenge for myself, to raise my standard right up there in order to get the jersey. I want to be competing to be starting in the big games and I know that to do that, I've got to make the right impression over the opening weeks before Mike and the other Lions return.
"Nothing can be taken for granted, it's a competitive squad here and I know that I have to raise my game if I'm going to
keep the number nine shirt. It's not just Mike or Liam, there are younger guys here who also want to be playing so I can't afford to just focus on a particular challenge in case I lose sight of the others."
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.