After spending 14 months on the sidelines, flanker Ben Lewis is back up and running and looking forward to the new season.
The 22-year old, who made a huge impact when introduced to the Ospreys first team during the 2007/08 campaign, has been out of action since April last year, having undergone reconstructive surgery to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Initially ruled out for six months, he suffered another blow in November when complications meant he was forced to go back under the knife for a second op, ruling him out for the remainder of the campaign.
Now fully fit and enjoying being a part of pre-season training with the squad, Lewis says he is understandably keen to put his injury troubles behind him and focus on sharpening up ahead of the forthcoming season. He said:
"When you suffer an injury you quickly focus on the return date and put all your efforts into meeting your targets along the way, and I was looking at six month lay-off, coming back in November or December last year. The initial op went well and it was all coming along nicely, but five months or so into it when I was just about to step it up I started suffering problems, It was the same symptoms as pre-op, I knew it wasn't right and had to seek medical help.
"Obviously it was quite a large setback for me to have to go through it all again. Mentally, there were some dark times, but I had the support of the Ospreys medical team, and the long term injured guys are pretty close knit and help you through the difficult periods. You soon realise that worse things happen in life, it wasn't the end of the world. I had faith that I would play again, the surgeon and the medical team here backed that up so I just had to get on with it and aim towards making myself available at the start of this season. I've come back for pre-season and taken a full part in training without any reaction. So far it's all going as forecast by the medical team and I'm hitting the targets set for me so I think I'm good to go.
"I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now. I've been out for longer than a year and I've had quite a tough time of it but it's good to be back in full training and getting the ball in hand. I'm genuinely excited about the prospect of playing again."
Having enjoyed a successful 2007/08 season, making 16 Ospreys appearances and scoring three tries, Lewis was being tipped to follow in the footsteps of fellow Academy products James Hook, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans into the national set-up, only for the injury to abruptly halt his progress. Looking ahead to the new season, he says that his only target is to force his way back into the reckoning at the Ospreys:
"Have I got a target for the season? To get back playing as many games as I can in an Ospreys shirt, it's as simple as that. I want to try and carry on where I left off in April last year, it's difficult to target anything else given the length of time I've been out. I had a taste of regional rugby a couple of seasons ago and I was starting to build up a reputation for myself and now I have to do it all over again. I can't think about anything else, or pay attention to anything that's said or written about me coming back, the only thing I have to answer to is my own expectations.
"I've had a full pre-season, taken as much a part as anyone else, so hopefully I will be involved in the games against Leeds and Gloucester, and we'll see where I am then. I may be ready to go from there, or the coaches and physios may think that I need a bit more game time under my belt before being considered for selection in competitive matches for the Ospreys.
"If that's the case, then I'll go to Swansea RFC and do what I have to do. I'm comfortable playing for the Whites, I've no issue playing at that level to prove myself. I'm proud of my roots, I'm a Swansea boy, I learnt my trade with the club having come through from Mumbles RFC and there are plenty of familiar faces around the place. If I find myself playing for them again this season then I'll look forward to helping the club build on the good results and performances they had at the end of last season.
"I think it's important for young players coming through the Academy to get game time at a local Premiership club like I did at Swansea. You're playing with and against older, more experienced players, some with regional experience or even international, and it's a great arena to push yourself, to see what level you are at, and to learn the game. It certainly helps to take you onto the next level, and is an important part of a player's development."