By Steffan Thomas
Ryan Elias admits there will be plenty of anger and frustration among his baggage when he gets to Dublin this week.
The Wales hooker has played just 180 minutes of rugby since the autumn due to Covid rules and lost fixtures but is likely to be Wales’ first-choice hooker for the Six Nations.
Elias was part of the Scarlets squad trapped in South Africa in November, then required to further isolate in Northern Ireland, before the virus then wiped out December fixtures.
It has meant the 27-year-old, who is filling the boots of injured Lion Ken Owens, has only played in three games in the last 10 weeks.
Now, he will be expected to hit his line-out jumpers with his first throw against Ireland or else three million Wales fans will start screaming at their TV sets.
“Coming off the back of my Wales campaign in the autumn, I really wanted to build on it, but it hasn’t worked out like that,” says Elias.
“There’s a massive come down and anti-climax when games get called off after you’ve trained hard for it most of the week.
RYAN ELIAS! 👊
Cais i’r Scarlets! 🙌
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) January 22, 2022
“As a hooker, you want to wind yourself up and be physical. If you aren’t there mentally as a forward, you aren’t going to do it at the end of the day.
“So, there’s been frustration without any release for that. Now, I have to channel all that in a positive way.”
Elias has been in the shadow of Owens for years, but he showed in the 29-28 victory against Australia in Wales’ last game – where he was a try-scorer – that this could finally be his moment.
“I was happy with where I got to by the end of the autumn. It was nice to have a run of games in the number two jersey, and I felt like I built on each game.”
Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel is confident the 27-year-old will get better and better.
“He’s been good,” says Peel.
“Obviously, I was delighted for him in the autumn because he was a big positive. His carrying game was excellent.
“The thing with Ryan is we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. I think when he gets into form and gets a consistent run of games, we can really see him flourish.
“I think we saw a bit of that in the autumn when he played four games back-to-back. That’s been the challenge so far in his career.
“He’s always played well for parts of his career, but he has been behind a test Lion for both his club and his national team. For Ryan, the consistency of games is huge for him.
“He’s a good leader for us. He was captain last year, leads by example, and he’s a big guy man.
“People don’t realise how big he is. I’ve been really happy with him, and he really wants to push on.
“I’m looking forward to getting him back onto the field. It’ll be good for him to have a run of games for Wales in the Six Nations as well.”
With Scarlets captain Jonathan Davies in his 34th year, and the likes of Owens, Scott Williams, and Aaron Shingler also approaching their mid-thirties. Peel is keen to develop a new generation of leaders at the Scarlets.
And he sees Elias as a player who has a big role to play off the field at Parc y Scarlets.
“He (Elias) is a prime example,” said Peel when asked about leaders in his squad. “He definitely has that quality in him.
“Josh Macleod is another one, and he has real good leadership qualities. Leadership; can it be taught? Is it nature? Is it nurture? It’s a bit of everything really.
“We’ve got a raft of older players who have been really successful in the game, but it’s vitally important that we get voices coming from underneath. Those two to name a few have been good.”