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Charteris on comeback trail

Wales lock Luke Charteris has recalled the agonising moment of grim realisation that his British and Irish Lions dream had been destroyed by injury.

Not only that, the towering Perpignan forward also knew he held little realistic hope of featuring in Wales' 2013 RBS 6 Nations campaign, one which went on to become another title-winning season.

And it has proved a long road back for the 30-year-old Cornishman, who makes his first Wales start for a year in Friday night's Millennium Stadium appointment with Tonga.

"At the very beginning, the physio said 'you are probably looking at nine months out'. And I think it turned out to be that," said Charteris, who ruptured medial knee ligaments during Perpignan's Top 14 clash against Montpellier last December.

"The injury happened, and it was one of those when you know instantly it is going to be a long spell out. It hit me straightaway.

"I was just lying on the pitch, and I knew. The Six Nations was gone and any chance of the Lions was gone. You know all that straightaway, and then you have a few days of moping around and whatever.

"But it is part of the job. You've just got to suck it up.

"I didn't have a very fun Christmas, and then there was the operation and getting on with the rehab. It was done over in France, and I had enough French to get by. I could say 'I need more drugs!'

"No, they were really good in fairness. Everything was done privately and the specialist looked after me really well, and Perpignan were really brilliant throughout the whole process. With a combination of the Welsh physios and Perpignan physios, they've done a good job."

Charteris, one of Wales' top performers during their 2011 World Cup campaign, would undoubtedly have been a serious selection candidate for the Lions tour to Australia, despite huge competition for second-row places.

That rivalry is something he has become accustomed to in Wales, given the presence of locks like Alun-Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Ian Evans and Andrew Coombs, and nothing has changed in the countdown towards next week's showdown against Australia.

"The aim is to get back to my World Cup form," he added.

"I was happy with the way I played in the year after the World Cup, everything was all good, but then I had a wrist injury and then another knee injury. But that's the way it is, there are always ups and downs.

"The only good thing about having a long-term injury is that it gives the rest of your body a chance to heal up and get over all the knocks and stuff. I've basically been given a year's pass, so it's one year less under the engine, which is quite good."

Charteris returned to Wales colours off the bench against South Africa and Argentina earlier this month, but his 43rd cap will see him back on starting duty as Wales look to back up their demolition of the Pumas by putting Tonga away.

"It will be nice to have a little run around," he said. "But I am under no illusion, I will be blowing after the first 10 minutes.

"Having gone on as a sub in the last few games, the intensity is a step up and it's tough. With the way we try and play - all tempo and at pace - I am pretty sure I will be exhausted. But it will be good and I am looking forward to the game.

"When you come back from a long time out, and especially with the way the boys are playing, you never know when you are going to get back into a squad or into a team.

"In my first game back (for Perpignan) against Gloucester in October, the head probably wasn't quite there. I was a little bit rusty in certain things, but in the second game I was fine.

"It has been a long way back after the operation in January, but to be fair, the last month has been good.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to be named in Wales' autumn squad after having not played much rugby, so I was really happy to be involved in the first two games.

"Now, it's good to get a start, and I just want to push on."

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