Jake Ball – owner of Welsh rugby’s most distinctive beard and stompiest boots – is back just when his country needs him.
The Scarlets second row returns on Saturday to help repel Tonga at the Principality Stadium, a venue where plenty of South Seas Islanders have left their imprint.
That won’t bother Ball, even though he is returning for the first time in a Wales shirt since dislocating his shoulder against New Zealand last autumn.
The one-time fast bowler is determined to hit the ground running now he’s back in Warren Gatland’s squad. Ball wants to lay down a marker in the battle to partner Alun Wyn Jones in the hotly-contested engine room of the Welsh pack ahead of the Six Nations and next year’s World Cup.
“I spent lot of time in the gym, on the bike and watching games and it was extremely frustrating for me,” said Ball of his enforced break from rugby.
“I’ve had to bide my time and I get an opportunity this weekend. That excites me. I’ve been training hard and I’ve had to wait for my opportunity. It’s exciting and hopefully I go well at the weekend.
“Tonga are a massive team. They’ve got a very, very good pack. It’ll be a physical game and that’s where we’ve got to front up.
“I think with big guys, you’ve got to take their legs away. That is an effective way of stopping them.
“We’ve got to play as a team, it’ as simple as that. I’m sure if we do that, then we’ll win.”
He faces stiff competition for a second row spot in a competitive Wales squad.
He added: “When you’ve got a chance, you’ve got to take it. It’s well documented at the moment that there’s a lot of competition in the squad. You’ve got to be training and playing well.”
Ball will be playing in a new-look Wales team to face Tonga with head coach Gatland having made 14 changes in personnel from the side which beat Australia 9-6.
“It can be difficult trying to gel in a short space of time,” he said.
“All the players have put in a big shift doing a lot of work away from the field. There are a lot of players in there, including myself, who have got an opportunity. I think we’re just all excited to get out there at the weekend.”
Ball starts alongside his former Scarlets team-mate Liam Williams who is winning his 50th cap this weekend. He lauded Williams for what he brings on and off the pitch.
“Liam is like a bouncing ball for 80 minutes. It’s great having him out there. He creates something from nothing which is great to have on the field.
“He’s a bubbly bloke and a great guy to have around your team. I’m just pumped for him and 50 caps is a fantastic achievement.”