Shane Williams is hoping that his first summer off in seven years will allow him to stay ahead of chasing pack of young stars emerging at Magners League champions the Ospreys.
The 33-year-old opted to stay at home this summer, rather than tour with Wales, in order to give his troublesome shoulder time to rest after another gruelling season that was crowned with the Ospreys’ victory over Leinster in the inaugural Magners League Grand Final at the end of May.
The double British & Irish Lions tourist reported back to training with his club last week claiming to be feeling “10 years younger” and ready to battle for his place in both the Ospreys and Wales line-ups in the new season.
“I’ve had the ideal summer and the shoulder is really good. I was disappointed not to go on the tour, but I think it’s done me the world of good,” admitted Wales’ record try scorer.
“I’ve come back in to start training this week and I’m feeling fresh. I feel 10 years younger.
“I’ve had a bit of time to myself, had my holidays, been kept busy by the kids and managed to train throughout the summer to make sure I came back in good nick.
“I’ve been doing a bit of re-hab and working hard on speed training and weights. It’s not been the kind of summer I’ve been used to over the years and to be back in training at this stage doesn’t seem natural.
“I was working it out and I think it’s going to be the first full pre-season I’ve done in seven years. But I’m glad I’ve had the break and I can certainly feel that I haven’t been on tour.
“I really felt rested coming in for training and after my first session I felt really good and ready to go again. I’m ready to do a full pre-season and hit the new season with a bang.”
Having made such an impact at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, Williams was part of a Welsh side that failed to reach the knock-out stages in France four years later. Now, as he reaches the latter stages of his illustrious career, he wants to make the most of his opportunities for both club and country.
“I’m feeling healthy and fit and I can’t wait for the new season to start. It’s going to be a massive season for me,” he added.
“I know I’m coming to the twilight years of my career and I know that I have to enjoy it the best I can. There’s a lot being said about the World Cup next year, and the need to push your claim for a place in the squad, but first of all I’ve got to play well for the Ospreys.
“I’m expecting big things from us this year and I’m really excited about the new season with both Ospreys and Wales. But the first priority is getting into both squads.
“We’ve got a good squad at the Ospreys and we all know the talent that’s in Wales at the moment, so I can’t take anything for granted if I want to keep on playing. I know I’ve got to train hard and play well if I want to play for either team.”
The emergence of teenage sensation Tom Prydie on the Welsh scene has given Williams a new rival at the Ospreys, while Wales Under 21 wing Kristian Phillips is expected to push for a first-team place at the club this season after a great year with Wales Under 21.
Add into the club equation Ireland’s devastating Tommy Bowe, Scotland’s Niki Walker and new signing from the Dragons Richard Fussell and it is easy to see why Williams, who is the regions all-time record try scorer, is taking little for granted as he approaches the new season.
“There are real numbers coming through at the Ospreys and it is a really exciting and challenging time. I’ve known about these players for quite a few years and while they may only be 17, 18 or 19, there’s been plenty of talk about them within the group and when you train with them you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about,” said Williams.
“I wasn’t half as good as the likes of Tom Prydie or Kristian Phillips are when I was 17 or 18. They are coming through, pushing for places, and it’s good for Welsh rugby and the Ospreys.
“In training I could see the likes of Eli Walker and a few other youngsters who are coming through and it is certainly keeping me on my toes. I’d like to think that I’ll keep them out for a bit longer, but I’m going to have to stay at the top of my game.”