Tom Prydie will pick up the pieces of his Wales career on Saturday – eight years after he was meant to be the next big thing.
The Scarlets wing will earn his sixth cap against South Africa in Washington as Wales aim to provide reasons for flying across the North Atlantic for a Test that falls outside of the official window.
One of the justifications could be to revive the international career of Prydie, who made his Wales debut in a blaze of publicity as an 18-year-old against Italy.
That was in 2010 when Prydie did well enough as a raw teenager – and Wales’ youngest player at the time – to keep his place for following games against South Africa and New Zealand, even though he had played only two matches at the time for the Ospreys.
A knee injury would mean his fourth cap did not come for another three years, before a loss of form and more injuries meant just another solitary cap in the past five years.
If he had become a forgotten man before reviving his career with a move from the Dragons to the Scarlets, then Prydie himself had sufficient memories to keep aiming for a return to the big stage.
“Injuries can get you down, but I never thought about giving up,” said Prydie, who is now 26 and entering his peak years.
“It was tough and frustrating but you have to stay positive. When I was first capped, I was a young lad coming into a squad where the coaches said there was no pressure on me and told me to enjoy the experience.
“It was not quite as much of a surprise being picked last month but probably even more pleasing.
“I was at Ospreys then and when I came back it was tough to break into a team that had players such as Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe and Nikki Walker.
“I went on loan to Wasps, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I wanted to remain in Wales because that would give me the best chance of getting back into the squad. That is why I joined the Dragons.”
“I had a good time with the Dragons but when the Scarlets came calling I did not think twice about it. The coaches said they were confident of improving my game and getting me back playing at the highest level again.
“They have been true to their word, and while I was surprised to be picked in the Wales squad, it was because I missed eight weeks of the season and only came back in May.
“The Scarlets have been a breath of fresh air and it has been a great year for me. One point Wayne Pivac made when I signed was that I was still young and that it was a new start.
“It is a challenging environment: a lot of pressure is put on you but I respond to that. I want to come to training and feel a bit nervous, but there is also an emphasis on enjoyment.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland has said he always believed Prydie would be worth another opportunity and that chance comes as Liam Williams has been rested for the tour, Josh Adams was withdrawn from the squad after failing to secure release from Worcester for the match against South Africa and Alex Cuthbert put his international career on hold by joining Gloucester.
“All I have wanted for a long time is to get a Test starting spot again,” said Prydie, whose first international try was scored against South Africa.
“I know players are missing but it is still a competitive squad. I have fought for a long time to get back in and always felt that what I needed was a good run of games. This is a huge opportunity to stake a claim for the World Cup next year and it is up to me to give the coaches some decisions to make.”
Both teams are below strength, with Wales having just three starters from when the sides last met in Cardiff six months ago and South Africa four.
Wales, led by the flanker Ellis Jenkins, are preparing for a two-Test series in Argentina while South Africa have omitted a number of their leading players before three matches against England.
Wales: Hallam Amos; Tom Prydie, George North, Owen Watkin, Steff Evans; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee, Dillon Lewis; Cory Hill, Bradley Davies; Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins (capt), Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Rhodri Jones, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Rhys Patchell, Hadleigh Parkes.
South Africa: Curwin Bosch; Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Elton Jantjies, Ivan van Zyl; Ox Nche, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Wilco Louw, Jason Jenkins, Pieter-Steph du Toit (capt), Kwagga Smith, Oupa Mohoje, Dan du Preez
Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Marvin Orie, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Embrose Papier, Robert du Preez, Warrick Gelant
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU).
Assistant referees: Alexandre Ruiz (FR) and Frank Murphy (IRE).
TMO: David Grashoff (RFU).