Aaron Shingler hopes to ease Wales pain with Scarlets win over Exeter
THE sight of Aaron Shingler sat slumped and disconsolate against a Millennium Stadium post last Saturday was a snapshot which captured the misery of the Welsh autumn.
Wales had just conceded a last-minute try to Australia, condemning them to a sixth consecutive defeat and a fourth loss in the last month.
Other players stared despairingly at the big screen, while some surveyed the wounds they had accrued from a brutal four Tests.
Yet few of these bedraggled souls embodied the team's strife quite like Shingler, whose body had taken a battering almost as severe as Welsh rugby's collective ego.
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"Bruising is probably the key word," he says.
"It was pretty brutal, and the knocks always feel worse when you've lost.
"It was very disappointing not to get a win, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
Shingler is not as downcast as last weekend's enduring image may have suggested, and it is just as well that he is philosophical about his setback.
The Scarlets back-rower has returned to domestic duties this week, as his region prepare to host Exeter in the first instalment of a pivotal Heineken Cup double-header tomorrow.
The Aviva Premiership side are expected to pose a robust, physical challenge at Parc y Scarlets and, having played an entire match against Australia and 78 minutes against New Zealand, Shingler will at least be battle-hardened for the visit of the Chiefs.
"It's intense, and that's the way I like it," the 6ft 6in forward adds.
"I think playing Australia the week before will give me the best preparation for the intensity and physicality which will come this weekend.
"We feel well prepared and the squad's looking quite sharp.
"I'm really looking forward to putting the Scarlets shirt back on and, hopefully, getting the win."
With two defeats from their two Heineken Cup matches to date, the Scarlets' hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals hang by the thinnest of threads.
Head coach Simon Easterby admitted they were all but eliminated after losing at home to Leinster in October, and Shingler knows their European campaign really will be over if they are beaten again tomorrow.
"It's been disappointing. We didn't perform well enough against two very good teams," Shingler says.
"Back-to-back against Exeter, we basically have to win twice and show what we can do at Heineken Cup level. Every time you hear the word Exeter, people are talking them up, saying they're a good team, which they are. They've improved a lot.
"The test is going to be massive and it's going to be a challenging game."
The Heineken Cup is clearly a competition which excites Shingler, and it is also a stage upon which the 25-year-old has shone.
He scored a breathtaking, length-of-the-field interception try in the Scarlets' memorable 16-13 away win at Castres last season, outpacing the likes of Scotland centre Max Evans on his way to the line.
Asked how significant a part the Heineken Cup has played in the making of his career, Shingler is left with no doubt.
"I'd say quite a large amount," he says. "It's a bigger stage, the intensity is upped and the reward is bigger if you play well.
"Every chance you get in the Heineken Cup, you've got to up your game and perform well."
As Shingler suggests, it is by impressing in Europe that players can best present their case for an international call-up.
The former Glamorgan cricketer laughs bashfully when it is put to him that he is the man currently in possession of the Wales No. 6 jersey, but there is a focus and seriousness as he considers how he can hold on to his starting place in the national side.
"That's massive for me," he adds. "Every game I play, I want to do my best regardless of my own personal situation.
"It's important now I've got a feel for the international stage. I want more of it.
"Hopefully over the next two months I can put in some performances which will warrant me playing again.
"It's given me a lot of confidence in my own ability and playing the two best teams in the world can only improve me as a player. Hopefully this weekend I'll show that."
The major barrier between Shingler and an extended run in the Wales team is Dan Lydiate, who is currently recovering from a broken ankle.
It was announced earlier this week that the Six Nations player of the tournament will leave the Dragons at the end of the season — with Racing Metro his likeliest destination — and, although he is a player Shingler admires, the Scarlets man insists he is happy in Wales.
"He's proved himself over the last couple of years as one of the best players around," he says.
"It's going to be a bit difficult (to get ahead of Lydiate) so we'll just have to see.
"It's not something I aspire to (a move abroad). I'm a passionate Scarlets man to be honest, and I love playing for the Scarlets.
"Hopefully my future is here, as long as they want me. That's not something I'm looking to do."
For the time being, the only trips to France Shingler is considering will come in the Heineken Cup or Six Nations with the Scarlets and Wales.
And before he can contemplate either of those, the barnstorming back-rower has his sights set only on tomorrow's match against Exeter.
"They're a good team but we're a good team as well," he says.
"We're at home and we've got to be the better team. Hopefully we can get the crowd behind us and play some good rugby."