With a welcome Lions tour on the horizon, Worcester Warriors prop Chris Horsman believes the new season could be his best ever.
Having been a part of the Wales squad that was knocked out at the quarter-final stages of the World Cup, the 31-year-old tight-head endured an injury-ravaged season in 2007/08 but is now looking forward to the forthcoming campaign with a renewed enthusiasm.
“I came back from the disappointment of the World Cup and then, first game back for Worcester, ripped my bicep off the shoulder,” says Horsman, who is now entering his fifth year at Sixways.
“I then came back feeling great and then the last training session before I came back, chipped a bone and had another operation.
“I came back for the last three games of the season and felt great but gave myself a double hernia, which I’d had for quite some years.
“When the season finished, I went in for another operation and now I feel great. It’s the first time in probably about three years that I haven’t had anything wrong with me, touch wood.”
An injury-free Horsman is an exciting prospect for Worcester, Wales and, quite possibly Ian McGeechan and the 2009 Lions. A formidable scrummager, Horsman currently has 14 international caps to his name and could be exactly what is needed when the Lions take on one of the world’s leading scrummaging nations in less than 10 months’ time.
“I’m just really excited,” says Horsman.
“I’m always excited about rugby because I love it but not to have any physical pain before you step on to the field, on top of the physical bashing you get, is so great.
“I’ve been getting up everyday straight out of bed and not hobbling down the stairs or coming into training sessions and taking pain killers just to get out on the training field.
“I’ve probably been my own worst enemy (in the past). There have been times when the fitness coaches and the physios would say ‘don’t train today’, but I can’t. So everyday I’d go out and I was popping loads of pills just to get through training sessions. All the injuries have cleared up, I feel great and I feel as good as I did when I first joined Worcester before I had that catalogue of injuries.
“My fitness has improved, my running, my weight training – everything’s going through the roof. I’m actually going out on the field, doing a contact session and the next day I’m getting up and thinking ‘great, I feel absolutely fine’.
“It’s such a nice feeling to be coming into something and thinking I can actually play the way I know I can play without being up to my eyeballs on painkillers or having a niggle.”
Although Horsman is not looking as far ahead as the Lions series in South Africa, he knows that a place in the Wales XV in the autumn internationals or Six Nations would be a good starting place from which to push for a tour spot.
Before that, however, the former Bath, Bridgend and Celtic Warriors player is concentrating solely on performing week-in-week-out for his club, something he feels he now has every chance of doing.
“All I can say is that if I’m not going to do well this season it will be because I’m not good enough. And if I’m not good enough, then I’m not good enough but I know it’s not for lack of trying.
“I always think of myself as quite a physical, on-the-edge player and that’s not going to change. I know now that I’ve got no injuries and I’ve got no niggles so, hopefully, I can be a bit more physical and last a few more games rather than playing three games then being out for three.
“I just want to get out there for Worcester, do the game I love, play week-in-week out and just repay the club.”
As well as impacting on his domestic ambitions with the Warriors last season, Horsman’s extensive list of injuries also had a frustrating impact on his international career. Having made his debut in November 2005, just eight months after Wales won their first Grand Slam in 27 years, Horsman was forced to sit out another Six Nations clean sweep in 2008.
That catalogue of unfortunate injuries has meant he now finds himself on the outskirts of the national squad, but the challenge of forcing his way into Warren Gatland’s thinking is one which Horsman won’t be shying away from.
“The good thing about right now is that I’ve got a real hunger, a real, real hunger and I’m not taking anything for granted. It’s not that I ever did, but I’m completely out of the set up now. People have moved in, people have established themselves, and it’s the same with Worcester.
“I’m running around like a teenager in training sessions and I intend to do the same when I get the chance on the field. I’m enthusiastic and I’m not in any pain.
“I feel really honoured that I’ve put that red jersey on 14 times, walked out and sung the anthem. Money can’t buy it. Outside of my kids being born, it’s just the most amazing experience.
“I’d love to get back into the national set up and, I know every player says they just want to do well for the club, but I just want to get out there for Worcester and play well. If I’m playing well then that’s all I can do then it’s just down to one man’s decision, whether he thinks I’m good enough or not and hopefully he does.”