Samson Lee admits to testing times on road to fitness
Prop Samson Lee is back to full strength and powering Wales' scrum in this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship - but he admits the long road towards fitness was often a testing one.
It is a year ago next month that the Scarlets tighthead ruptured his Achilles' during a Six Nations clash against Ireland in Cardiff.
The injury's severity immediately cast a cloud over his 2015 World Cup prospects, and left Wales possibly contemplating a bid for global supremacy without their scrummaging cornerstone.
But 23-year-old Lee, who weighs in at 18st 4lb, has now started Wales' last four games - including the World Cup encounters against Australia and South Africa - following a sometimes demanding recovery process.
"The Achilles feels back to normal, and I have been working a lot on strengthening the calf. It feels a lot better," said Lee, who lines up against Six Nations opponents France in Cardiff on Friday night.
"I knew it was going to be tough to get back after such a serious injury, but I kept on working hard in rehab and now I feel back to normal.
"When you snap your Achilles', obviously you are going to lose bulk and strength in your calf. I lost about two to three inches off my calf, and I found I was using my right leg more than my left.
"It was a big operation, and there is a big old scar there. It was one of my big worries how I would be able to get the strength back, but it was all about rehab, rehab, rehab."
Wales' scrum has proved a potent weapon during this season's Six Nations, with Lee's Scarlets colleague Rob Evans commanding rave reviews for his displays on the loosehead side after being selected above 121 times-capped Gethin Jenkins.
But Evans' success has been no surprise to Lee since they renewed a front-row role together at international level after packing down at the 2012 Junior World Championship in South Africa.
"We have played together for a long time now," Lee added. "Rob is pretty confident in himself, and you just let him crack on. He has done well.
"We played against each other for the first time at under-16s, then we played together for west Wales, the districts and then came through the academy together at the Scarlets. We are quite good mates."
France's renowned scrummaging power is likely to mean Wales needing another gear on Friday, when victory would take them top of the championship ahead of unbeaten title rivals England hosting Ireland on Saturday.
"After the way we have performed in the opening couple of weeks, I can't see why we can't put in another big performance against the French," Lee said.
"You play against French packs - whether it is at international or club level - and they are always big heavy packs.
"It will be one of the toughest scrums we will come up against during the Six Nations. It will be a big challenge for us this week.
"When you come up against big props, you have just got to concentrate on what you do well. A lot of it is down to technique.
"We have also got to have plenty of confidence in what we have done in the opening two rounds and take it into this week's game."