As one of the senior players at the region, Ian Gough says he's thriving on the challenges that lay ahead as another season gets underway.
The 33-year old second row assumed the mantle of oldest man in the squad when Filo Tiatia hung up his boots at the end of last season, only for new signing Mefin Davies to come in over the summer and take the honour.
However, the vastly experienced lock who has 63 Wales caps to his name, says that while he is more than happy to guide some of the younger players in the squad, he is not the only ‘old man’ in the group.
“Filo’s gone and they actually said that, you’re the oldest, so I’m glad they signed Mefin!” he laughed.
“There are a few more who are actually the same age as me, Sonny and Shane are both 33 but they sneak under the radar because they were born in ‘77 and I’m ’76.
“I’m just taking each season as a new challenge though. It’s great to start another season, I’m not too sure that 14 years ago when I was starting out in rugby that I thought I’d last this long.
“My debut was at the end of the 95/96 season for Newport against Llanelli, I came on as a sub for the famous David Waters on his 703rd appearance, then I started the next season against Caerphilly I think. You couldn’t explain how different it was then. I can’t remember that far back! The competition for places and the standard of competition far exceeds what it was then, with four regions instead of twelve clubs.”
According to Gough, the change to regions seven years ago has been pivotal to Welsh teams competing at the highest level, both for region and country. He said:
“The guys that make it through the regional set-ups are so much better because they have so much competition, it’s not diluted anymore. They are quicker, conditioned and skilled up too. You just have to take your hat off as to how the structure is working. It’s great for us, we are hanging our hat on it and we’ve got boys coming through.
“You need that. The likes of Dan Biggar and Ryan Bevington, just to name two that are playing at the weekend, and then we have even younger ones coming through that are looking fantastic in training. If we can bring these boys through, they are the stars of the future.
“Some of the young guys coming through are fantastically talented and this is how they learn. I was the same when I was coming through as a young 102kg pup, up against it. Every game you learned something, and even now, even at my age you still learn. The laws change, the game develops and you learn every game.”
As he prepares for the first game in his 15th season of top-flight rugby, against Ulster at Ravenhill on Friday evening, Gough says that the desire to be successful still burns bright:
“I came to the Ospreys because I wanted to be part of a successful team, to win things. We won the EDF the first year and we won the Magners League last season and that’s brilliant, that’s things I’ve never done before. To be successful in Europe is obviously a big thing, and to defend our Magners League title, nobody’s won it two years in a row, so if we can do that it would be massive. It’s just to be successful, to have something to look back on. We’ve achieved a lot but we can still achieve a lot more.
“I’d like to go to the World Cup, but it all depends on here doesn’t it? You’ve got to be playing well, and the competition, especially in the second row, is massive. The World Cup is a big pinnacle but it’s a massive challenge just to get there. This is the time of the season to start restaking your claim.”