What comes across most obviously when talking to Rhys Priestland is a strong mental attitude. It was really positive to hear him talk about his recovery from an Achilles injury and how keen he is just to get back out on the pitch.
“I’m not doing anything at the moment other than resting it. I’ll be back in to full rehab in the next 10 days once pre-season starts, and am really looking forward to playing some rugby again,” said the Scarlets fly-half. “The disappointing thing with the injury was that I was feeling fresh and ready and it was a tough couple of days after I found out, but am much better now. I can’t say I’m looking forward to pre-season, but I am feeling as fresh as I ever have done.”
In different circumstances Priestland would be competing for a starting Lions jersey in Australia right now, and he has some interesting things to say about the tour. Fresh from the news that Jamie Roberts may have ruled himself out of the first Test, and indeed the tour, he was reticent to declare who would play at 12 now, but feels Jonathan Davies was the man most likely to play at outside centre either way.
“I know how highly the coaching team regard Jon, and he is now one of the best centres in world rugby. With Leigh Halfpenny at 15 [and a right-footed kicker at 10 no matter what], Jon’s left-footed kicking game, something he has worked at incredibly hard, offers the team another option.”
He is also sure that the team will start with Mike Phillips at scrum-half. “He will love playing behind such a powerful pack, and the way the Aussies play will suit him. There will be two contrasting styles out there and the Lions look like they are a typical Gatland side – big, powerful, strong in the contact.”
He admitted that he is a huge fan of the controversial Aussie pair Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale. When asked whether he thought it strange that Robbie Deans has chosen not to pick Cooper at all, Priestland said, “he is one the most skilful players in the world, as we all know, but they are some of the best coaches in the world, will have done their homework, although it would be nice to see him play.
“If they can get parity up front, Australia still have some of the best backs in the world, but I think it will be a 2-1 series victory, with the Lions taking the first two tests.”
Priestland was up at 4am on Saturday (“that was tough”) as he was on the S4C panel which saw Wales lose 23-8 to Japan. Talking about the defeat in Osaka for a very young Welsh side, Priestland could still see the positives, and was quick to praise the Japanese team. “Lloyd Williams in particular looked sharp, and there was a good platform provided for the backs, but the boys will be disappointed not have been more clinical. The Japanese looked very fit, well drilled and the 9 [Fumiaka Tanaka of Super 15 franchise, the Highlanders] is a real handful. They looked more used to playing in that heat, and Wales struggled to slow down their ball. The boys out there though will take a massive amount from touring with Wales, and it will serve them well.”
This sort of positivity is great to hear from one of Wales’ big talents who cruelly is not on the Lions’ tour. Next season though, once fit, he will be ready and raring to go for both the Scarlets and the national team.
By Chris Francis (@mckrisp)
Rhys Priestland was speaking at Llandeilo RFC during the NatWest RugbyForce Weekend, a programme that helps local clubs to improve their facilities and create a stronger future. For more information go to www.wru.co.uk/natwestrugbyforce