Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau says his “frustrating” long-term injury absence has reignited his desire to play.
The British and Irish Lion broke his arm twice last season and missed Wales’ Six Nations Grand Slam.
Faletau’s last game for his country was in March 2018, but now he is back with Wales at their World Cup training camp.
“It’s good to be back in and among the boys and training with them again,” said the 28-year-old Bath player.
“I didn’t realise at the time but being away from rugby for that amount of time, the hunger is there more now.
“When you are doing it year in, year out, you take it for granted at times.
“Hopefully, when I get on the pitch, I can last longer than last time.”
Faletau’s luckless run of injuries started last October when he fractured his right forearm while playing for Bath, which ruled him out of Wales’ autumn series clean sweep.
He made an impressive return for his club in their Champions Cup win over Wasps in January – but he then broke the same arm, and the injury denied him what would have been a second Grand Slam and a third Six Nations title of his career.
“It’s been frustrating. I played the first couple of games of the season with Bath, then I broke it the first time,” Faletau said.
“But it was more frustrating the second time around because I was looking forward to playing some rugby at the end of the season – but it just wasn’t meant to be.
“Hopefully it’s better this time. I haven’t played a game yet but I’ve been doing some contact with the boys and it’s holding up OK so far.
“I had the same procedure the second time around: the surgeon put another plate the other side of the bone to strengthen it. A bone graft was mentioned the second time around but we decided against it.
“I’m not sure why it happened again. I’d rather not look back and point fingers. This time around it’s solid enough.”
When fit, Faletau is among the finest back-rows in world rugby and his prodigiously broad skillset has helped him earn 72 caps for Wales and four Test appearances for the Lions across two tours.
Despite his considerable status, however, the former Dragons player feels the need to prove himself all over again as he aims to make the cut when Wales reduce their squad of 42 players down to a final 31-man party for the World Cup in September.
“It’s about winning my place in the team back,” Faletau added.
“A lot of hard work will go into it but everybody is doing the same thing to put their hands up.
“Playing for your country at a World Cup is another level – it’s no different to anyone else here. Everybody wants the same thing and, at the end, only a certain amount will be able to go.”
Vunipola’s wedding – and doing Tonga proud
Before joining Wales’ squad in Switzerland, Faletau returned to the country of his birth, Tonga, for the wedding of his cousin and England number eight Billy Vunipola.
“It was awesome to get back there. It was the first time I had been there since 2011, so it was awesome to see the family and the culture again,” said Faletau.
“I was born there but moved to Wales when I was seven. This time round I took my partner down and the kids and everyone had a great time. My only regret was that I wasn’t there longer.”
While Faletau, who was raised in Gwent, is a proud Wales international, he is also proud of his Tongan roots, and he proved to be a celebrity attraction on his return to the island.
“It’s a small country, so you get recognised by everybody. They are proud and back their own,” Faletau said.
“You can see with the rugby league there they have a huge amount of supporters and any Tongan playing for another country they will support them hugely too.
“I represent Wales now, but I am Tongan. If I can make them proud by playing for Wales I will be happy to do that.”