A true Lions legend says Wales have received a massive boost thanks to the form of two fellow Lions in the lead up to the Six Nations.
Triple Lions tourist Dai Young believes his Cardiff Blues duo of Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts will have put a smile on the face of Wales coach Warren Gatland ahead of the tournament opener against England on February 4.
The capital city pair have been absent through injury for large parts of the season but both are already seemingly back to their best.
Halfpenny spent two-and-a-half months on the sidelines with ankle ligament damage, while Roberts missed the first 15 games of the season following wrist surgery.
For Roberts, surgery was the final option to address a problem which ended his first Lions tour 19 months ago. The qualified doctor arrived in South Africa with Britain and Ireland’s elite with critics unsure of his best position but went on to be crowned HSBC Player of the Tour after forming a stunning centre partnership with Brian O’Driscoll.
Roberts played through the 2009/10 season for the Blues and even toured New Zealand with his country last summer, but he was eventually told he would need an operation sooner rather than later.
He opted for the former and missed the autumn internationals as a result, a campaign for which Wales were also without Halfpenny.
The 22-year-old wing suffered ligament damage against the Scarlets on October 22 and didn’t start another fixture until the January 7 clash with Aironi.
Jamie Roberts was outstanding for the Lions in 2009
Both club and country suffered substantially without two of their best performers, with Wales failing to win any of their November Tests against Australia, South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand.
Wales have since been plagued with major injury concerns prior to the Six Nations, with Lions tourists Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Tom Shanklin and Gavin Henson all injury victims, as are Andrew Bishop and Toby Faletau. Throw in Richie Rees’ 12-week suspension and critics are suggesting Wales will struggle.
But despite those setbacks, Young is insisting Gatland can take confidence from the manner in which his two Blues stars have returned from their time out.
"After long injuries, both Leigh and Jamie have come back and hit the ground running," said Young, who remains the only man to have represented Britain and Ireland’s elite in three separate decades having toured in 1989, 1997 and 2001.
"Those two are massive positives for Wales going into the Six Nations.
"I thought Leigh was outstanding against Aironi, both in attack and defence.
"He’s been really excited about playing because he’s been out for a while. You can see that in his game. He just wants to get his hands on the ball.
"He looked polished and everything he did looked like a top international player. That was both in defence, where he saved us once or twice, and in attack. He was immaculate in defence and in the way he dealt with certain situations.
"Leigh is quality, isn’t he? He’s an honest guy and he’ll probably come from the game and think he can improve on one or two things. That’s the way he is. His enthusiasm and his excitement at getting back, married with all his skills, and he’s a quality player who probably feels he can get better and better."
Leigh Halfpenny has returned to form in next to no time
Both Halfpenny and Roberts will bring an added dimension to a Wales side that has increased it’s physical presence in recent months and will now be attempting to combine brains with brawn.
The much-publicised Welsh backline lacked a certain spark during the autumn, as injuries resulted in a greater pressure being placed upon James Hook’s magical capabilities.
But with Halfpenny and Roberts now back in the fold, Young is convinced that Wales will once again prosper this Spring.
"Leigh’s one of these rare players who, whenever he has the ball, everyone gets up on the edge of their seat. He always looks like he’s going to do something," added Young.
"In attack he was the one player who, every time he had the ball, really looked like he was going to break Aironi down.
"That’s good news for Warren. That’s great news because he’s a match winner.
"I think Jamie’s looked very strong. I felt we overused him against Aironi and he became a bit of a battering ram. But he’s better than that. Obviously, he has that side to his game, but he can play as well and he’s got great distribution.
"In defence, he’s looked really solid, and he’s a great foil. That’s great news for Warren, too."