By David Roberts
Rhys Carre is happy to be back in familiar surroundings at Cardiff Blues and can’t wait to get back into action for his home town team.
But the eight-times capped Welsh international prop isn’t taking anything for granted, despite coming back with a World Cup campaign, a Six Nations camp and six weeks spent at the best club in Europe under his belt.
When he left he wasn’t an automatic first choice, but now he hopes to prove to John Mulvihill that he has what it takes to lock down the No 1 jersey at the club. He may only be 22, but he has returned from Saracens a far more mature player.
A 10-week period of virtual solitary confinement in a London flat during lockdown gave him plenty of time to learn new skills and become more independent.
When he left Cardiff he was still a boy packed full of potential in many people’s eyes, but now he has returned as a man ready to make a statement.
“I didn’t see lockdown coming or else I would have moved home in time. But it happened pretty quickly with no warning and I just had to put up with it,” explained Carre.
“I tried to shop twice a week and I was trying out all sorts of different meals. I had nothing else to do with my day, although the Play Station took a battering.
“I had never used a washing machine before and it was a real eye-opener having to do everything yourself without your Mum coming around behind you cleaning up. I’m back home at the moment, but I’m moving into a house in a few weeks’ time.”
Apart from running in the park while he was stranded away from Wales, Carre also stuck rigidly to an exercise regime at home aimed at maintaining strength. He looks to be in great nick and can’t wait to get back to locking horns with an opposing pack and trying to batter holes in defensive line-ups.
“I missed rugby like you would not believe and it felt like the longest three or four months ever. I have been used to group training four or five days a week for the last five years, so to be told then for 15 weeks you aren’t doing anything was tough,” he added.
“What I’ve missed most has been getting out there and having some fun. That’s the great thing about rugby, every game is different, can give you different challenges and different opportunities.
“I don’t tend to lose as much muscle as other players. I was doing bodyweight sessions in my flat and, being quite heavy myself, that helped. I’ve pretty much maintained my muscle during lockdown.”
There is no doubt that having been able to pick the brains of World Cup final props Mako Vunipola and Vincent Koch while he was at Saracens will have given him an insight into some of the secrets of the front row. Now he can top-up his knowledge by working with Gethin Jenkins at the Blues.
With Dragons tight head Leon Brown he looks to be among the new breed of props being groomed for a long stay in the Welsh set-up. Nevertheless, Carre is the first to admit he has a long way to go to reach his full potential.
“I’ve only played 36 games professionally and 80 per cent of those have been off the bench. It’s about working as hard as I can this year to try and get as much game time as I can,” he said.
“Everyone wants that No 1 jersey and if I can get that shirt consistently it will show I am working hard and playing well.”
The first battle will be to see of Rhys Gill, Brad Thyer and Corey Domachowski at the Blues before he starts thinking about challenging Wyn Jones, Rob Evans and Nicky Smith for the Welsh shirt.
But with eight Welsh caps behind him, including that World Cup experience in Japan, he has made a good start.