Rhys Carré admits he’s been fortunate to tap into the knowledge of some of the game’s most experienced and illustrious players in his position over the last couple of years, and will continue to be all ears upon his return to Cardiff Blues.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise in professional rugby - with only 13 months separating his Guinness PRO14 debut for John Mulvihill’s side and a Rugby World Cup semi final appearance for Wales against eventual winners, South Africa.
In his young career to date, Carré has been shared changing rooms with the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Vincent Koch and Mako Vunipola - a trio of looseheads with more than 220 international caps - and almost every trophy in world rugby - under their belts.
And, despite establishing himself as an international player in recent months, the academy product is still eager to soak up the wealth of knowledge from ‘one of a kind’ Cardiff Blues, Wales and British & Irish Lions legend, Jenkins.
“Gethin was one of a kind when it came to being the fittest, the most aggressive at the breakdown and being an all-rounded prop,” said Carré.
“I sat quite close to him in the changing room last time around, so I’d speak to him on a daily basis, and with him taking up a defensive role at the club, that is probably one of my work-ons.
“This year, I’ll probably be in his office more times than I can imagine but I’ll look forward to that and hopefully gain some of his knowledge as he’s one of the best.
“When you’ve got a bloke of Gethin’s standards sitting you down for a one-to-one, you have the upmost respect for someone like that, and you listen to what they have to say.
“As a player to a player, there’s nothing better to get than that. Especially Gethin, who has been there and done that more times than most. That will be massive for me.
“Both Vincent Koch and Mako Vunipola played in the World Cup final, and they obviously both know what they’re doing.
“Vincent has played in Super Rugby and both of them have played against various opponents across the world, where I’d only been exposed to some at the World Cup and PRO14. So gaining their knowledge and experience was huge for me.
“Hopefully I’ll be up against those boys in the future. I’d love to be given an opportunity. We’ve had our training sessions, where things can get a bit tasty, so it would be nice to see what would happen in a real game.”
Having spent last season with European champions, Saracens, the highly promising prop returns to his home region this season, and has his sights firmly set on claiming the number one jersey.
He’s reflected on his time with Mark McCall’s side and feels back at home with Wales’ Capital Region.
The loosehead prop added: “It was weird when I arrived at Saracens to start with. I’d got back from the World Cup on the Monday and they wanted me in training on the Thursday. I had a day off on the Tuesday, then moved everything into my flat on the Wednesday, and it didn’t really feel like I’d been anywhere.
“I went straight into a team session on the Thursday with fitness and conditioning afterwards and I was a travelling reserve on the weekend.
“It was a tough first couple of weeks, and trying to learn their phase shape but once I got that nailed down I was alright then.
“With the experience I had over the summer, and the time I spent with Saracens, I think it’s made me more confident in my own ability.
“Before I think I would’ve been sort of happy enough to be on the bench, now I won’t accept anything more from myself than a start.
“That means that I will have to push myself even harder.
“Over the past few months, I’ve been put into some strange situations, whether that was in Japan or in London.
“I’ve been away from Cardiff, which was all I’d known to that point, so I had to grow up a lot quicker than I thought I would’ve.
“It’s been a great experience and an eye opener to how things in the world actually works.
“If you’d told me 12 months ago that I would be playing in a World Cup semi final, I would never have believed you, and it shows that if you work hard and put everything into what you want to do then you can get there.
“Going to the World Cup has given me much more confidence with my scrummaging, especially in the French game in the quarter final. There were a couple of big scrums in that game which helped us maintain and gain possession.
“Giving myself that opportunity and coming out on top has really made me a much more confident scrummager.
“What I’ve missed most is going out, running around and having fun. That’s the best thing about rugby - every game is different and every game will give you different challenges and opportunities.
“I grew up around 30 seconds walk from Pentwyn Leisure Centre, so it’s ideal. I literally just need to roll out of bed and get to training.
“It’s a great facility for us. The new gym is really nice and we have regulations for Covid, which is all working well.