Richard Hibbard is set to provide the Ospreys with a boost ahead of the forthcoming campaign by declaring himself fit to join the rest of the squad for pre-season training.
The hooker has been sidelined since April, when he was forced to undergo surgery to repair knee ligament damage that had troubled him since the Heineken Cup win over Leicester Tigers in January.
Now, after following an intensive rehab programme set by the Ospreys medical team over the summer break, Hibbard has stepped up his recovery over the last two weeks by starting running again, and he is now set to join up with the first batch of players who return for pre-season training on July 12th with a view to being available for selection for the first game of the new season.
"I'm going into pre-season fine, feeling good" he said.
"I've been working hard with the physios and it's really coming on. I only had a week's break but it's been worth it to get myself back to where I need to be.
"It's been a really frustrating time, I had four months of the season where it was on and off all the time because of injury. I first picked it up in the Leicester game and from then it was rest, feel okay, play, and it would go again. When the decision was made to have surgery back in April, it was good to see the end of the season and finally sort it to be honest.
"It's going to be tough going back into pre-season, but then the last four weeks with the physios has been tough enough anyway. It's always hard work when you've been injured and off your feet for a period of time. There's only so much upper body work you can do and as soon as you start running again, then it's a big step forward but you do suffer a bit. Your legs are heavy and tired but you've got to put yourself through it. Hopefully now, this period working with the physios will get me up to speed just when I need to be.
"The boys come back for pre-season the week after next and I should be fine to get a proper, full, pre-season under my belt which will be great. I've got to get the all clear from the physios first but I should be training as normal with the rest of the squad. The first target for the season is to stay fit, to be honest, then it's to make sure I play to the best of my ability. Anything else will be a bonus."
Hibbard will face stiff competition as he looks to nail down a regular starting place next season, with Grand Slam winner Mefin Davies being added to the Ospreys ranks, joining from Leicester Tigers. Hibbard acknowledged the challenge, but said that both he and his fellow hooker Huw Bennett will benefit from the presence of such an experienced player:
"Mefin coming in will really increase the competition and put the pressure on Benny and myself a bit. He will bring a lot of experience with him, and I realise that we will need to up our own games if we are going to play regularly. He has been playing consistently for Leicester so he is clearly playing to a very high standard.
"The thing about Mefin is he will use that experience in other ways as well, not just on the pitch. He will definitely help me and Benny to continue improving, he will always be willing to pass on his huge experience where he can. I'm looking forward to the extra competition and to working with him in training."