Bristol talisman Nathan Hughes believes his form is back to a level where he can challenge England No.8 Billy Vunipola for his Six Nations place.
Dropped from England’s World Cup plans after a difficult spell at Wasps, hard-carrying Hughes has reinvented himself at Bristol where he claims his fitness levels are now much higher.
Outstanding in Bristol’s rise into the Premiership’s top four and their perfect start in Europe, a hungrier Hughes told The Rugby Paper: “I haven’t lost weight or anything like that but I am fitter and quicker which is credit to the S&C staff and coaches here at Bristol.
“With the fast, attacking style of rugby Bristol want to play, you have to be fit to be able to cope with it and I’m happy that Pat Lam is playing me most weeks. A break here and there is not a bad thing but I enjoy having that continuity and want to keep rolling.
“You’re supposed to enjoy rugby and I’m enjoying the style Bristol play. When I signed, Pat said he wanted some go-forward from me and I’m trying my best to give our team that, but I also like the way he’s using me in different areas of the field as well.”
Hughes explained: “I’m getting in behind lineouts and scrums and he’s using me a lot in backfield, so there’s a lot more variety to my game now which keeps other teams guessing. From my perspective, I just needed something fresh and that’s what I’ve got.
“When Pat approached me and said, ‘this is my vision, this is what I want to build’, I really liked the sound of it and wanted to jump on board. We want to be pushing for the top six and feel we have a good chance of winning the Challenge Cup as well.
“It’s going to be a big tournament to win and there are still a lot of good teams in it like Toulon and Bordeaux, but we talked about Europe at the start of the season and want to target it. We don’t want to be playing Challenge Cup rugby next season, we want to be playing in the top competition against Leinster and Clermont and it’s another route in.”
Hughes has previously spoken of how his World Cup exclusion was a “kick in the b*****ks”. However, he is now feels ready to see off Vunipola and other challengers like Alex Dombrandt, below, and Sam Simmonds by letting his powerful rugby do the talking.
“Fingers crossed, but I’ll just let selection take care of itself and my main focus now is on playing the best rugby I can and let the coaches deal with the rest,” Hughes said.
“I’m not going into the details of what he (Eddie Jones) said but he just wanted me to keep working hard and when an opportunity comes, be ready. I’m just keeping my head down and trying to improve and if he likes me, I’ll be in. If not, I can’t control it.
“But what I do know is there’s a lot more to come from me. I’ve only just started at Bristol and the coaches here are bringing out the best of me.”
Bristol take on Wasps this Friday night and despite their struggles, Hughes is wary of his old side. He added: “They’ve been unlucky with injuries and are going through a rough time, but there’s enough experience in that side to get up the league.”
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