By Peter Jackson
Dan Lydiate has vowed to join the massed ranks of Welsh back row contenders in Test rugby.
After 18 months scarred by injury, the Ospreys blindside admits he faces ‘massive challenges’. But he is motivated by a hunger to prove himself again.
“Come September, I’ll be ready to rock and roll,’’ Lydiate said. “I don’t ever remember going into pre-season fit, as in fully fit. I’m good to go.’’
Lydiate has not been seen in the Test arena since the final five minutes against the Springboks last year, a bicep injury eliminating him from the Six Nations.
A new cluster of back row forwards – notably James Davies, Ellis Jenkins and Seb Davies – have emerged as challengers in an area once ruled by the all-Lions’ Test trio of Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau.
“Having such strength in depth is brilliant for Welsh rugby,’’ says Lydiate. “So many good young players coming through bodes well for the future and that level of competition pushes you on.
“In one sense it feels almost like starting again from scratch.
“The new faces coming through are hungry for the jersey and that keeps driving us to play at the highest level. There are massive challenges ahead. I’m going to try to get my place back and I’ll give it my very best shot.”
Wales will go into their next match, Scotland in Cardiff on Nov 3, without their current first-choice blindside, Aaron Shingler. He will not play again this year after tearing knee ligaments during the Scarlets’ PRO14 final against Leinster last month.
Warburton, out of action since persuading French referee Romain Poite to change his mind and secure the Lions a drawn series in New Zealand last summer, hopes to be back in contention by November. Whether he does so at openside or blindside remains to be seen.
Lydiate, ten months older than Warburton at 30, readily concedes that the physicality of the game in general and the back row in particular increases season on season.
“Absolutely, one hundred per cent,’’ he says. “The game has moved on over the last two seasons and it keeps moving on.”
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