AARON Wainwright comes into the first Test week of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations with big boots to fill but with a very settled outlook on life after resigning for the Dragons last week.
The 26-year-old looks destined to take over the No 8 shirt from the injured Taulupe Faletau and be the senior figure in the Welsh back row in what will be his sixth Championship.
He already boasts a Grand Slam and a second Six Nations title and has been to two World Cups.
All that after graduating through the ranks at the Dragons, where he has just signed a new contract.
“I’m happy to have re-signed and I’m excited to see what the next couple of years have to hold.
“I’m a home boy and I love the Dragons,” said the 43-times capped Wainwright.
As well as being a talisman at his home region, he has become an increasingly influential figure in Warren Gatland’s Welsh squad, a player capable of playing in a number of positions.
Never one to take anything for granted, Wainwright admitted to feeling “proud” to be selected again for another Wales campaign and is greatly looking forward to getting a run in his favourite position, starting on Saturday at home to Scotland.
“I definitely prefer playing No 8. I can play at No 6 but whatever allows me to be in the team is fine by me,” he added.
“I’ve worked hard over the past few months and to be named in the squad again was a huge honour. These few weeks have just been about getting back into the groove of things.
“We’ve all been pushing each other in training, and everyone has fitted in really quickly. Everyone has taken on information very quickly.
“We’re expecting the standard physicality up front from Scotland this weekend and we have to stay disciplined throughout the 80 minutes. We have to make sure we stay in the game.”
Wainwright added: “I love turning up to Rodney Parade, seeing fans on the terraces and that’s what I want to keep doing – turning up on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, playing well, trying to make them happy,”
Meanwhile teammate Gareth Thomas (pictured left) believes those players in the Wales squad who went through the rigorous training regime ahead of last year’s World Cup are still reaping the benefit of the camps in Switzerland and Turkey.
The training at altitude in Fiesch and in the extreme heat near Antalya prepared Wales for a run to the quarter finals in France earlier this season before they fell to Argentina.
And now the Ospreys prop feels the benefit of the hard work last summer can play into the Six Nations.
“I think all of the boys who did the summer camps probably agree we all feel fit,” he said.
“I hope that comes into the games in the Six Nations as well. I hope it shows that we are still fit because I probably felt the best I’ve ever felt at the World Cup.
“I haven’t had that much time off since then, so I haven’t had time to lose it I suppose, so I hope I’m still just as fit.”
Thomas will be looking to add to his 26-cap tally during the 2024 Guinness Six Nations and comes into the tournament fully fit and refreshed after missing the Ospreys recent trip to South Africa.
While many are writing off Wales when it comes to their title hopes, Thomas stressed the squad will not back down from any battles over the coming weeks – starting with the challenge of the Scots.
“I can’t see a team coming up against us and thinking they’re going to have an easy day,” said Thomas.
“We don’t think much about the history of what has gone on in these games in the past. We haven’t got much to lose, and we just want to get out there and win
“There is a lot of energy in the camp at the moment. We have to empty the tank from game one in this tournament and there has to be 100 per cent effort from every one.
“Since I’ve been involved, and even watching Wales before, no-one’s had an easy day against Wales. The boys we’ve got in the squad at the minute, none of us will back down in any fight.
“We’re a country that always punches above our weight. We’re going to have to do that in this campaign as well.
“With a bit of belief, and then being able to deliver on the detail the coaches give us, should see us do alright.”
Wales v Scotland kicks-off at 4.45pm this Saturday, and is live on BBC 1 and S4C.