Jake Ball of the Scarlets says: 'It's been a special two weeks ... now to keep it going'
IT is fair to say Jake Ball won't forget his first taste of Heineken Cup rugby.
The 22-year-old made his European debut two weeks ago as the Scarlets rocked The Stoop with a stunning 33-26 triumph over Premiership big-hitters Harlequins.
And there to watch him were his parents who had flown over from Australia to see their son in action.
"My old man used to play for the Quins so it was a big game for him to come over and see," said Ball, now in his second season in Llanelli since his move from Australian Super 15 franchise Western Force.
"It has been fantastic couple of weeks and it has been great that my mam and dad have been over so they got the chance to experience it. What a great two games for them to come over and watch."
An aggressive carrier who puts himself about at the contact area, the 6ft 6in lock is making a big impression in West Wales.
He had limited opportunities last season — seven starts and just three in the Pro12.
But he is already closing in on that tally this season and thriving on the competition with South African duo Joe Snyman and George Earle, who start in the boilerhouse against Zebre this evening.
"The competition for places has driven me through the off-season; nobody wants to be in the back seat, they want to be involved the whole time. Whenever you get the chance to play and pull on the jersey you try and make the most of it," said Ball.
There was a nice moment following the Quins triumph when the Scarlets players headed over to the stand behind the posts containing the visiting support.
A couple of Scarlets fans jumped over the advertising hoardings to congratulate Ball and the photo ended up on the sports pages of the Sunday papers.
"It is always interesting when someone jumps over the fence and gives you a big hug," smiled Ball.
"It was my first game in Europe and you can just see how passionate people are about the competition, it brings something special out in supporters and players that maybe you don't get in Pro12 and LV."
Last weekend in the 26-26 draw with Racing Metro, Ball put in a typically workaholic shift against the Parisians before making way for Snyman with 16 minutes remaining.
"It was a pretty physical game, but I thought we dealt with them up front," he added.
"Surprisingly, we only had to make 40-odd tackles for a game like that which is fantastic for us because it means your body is not taking as big a beating as maybe last year when we were going away and making something like 160 tackles.
"It is a big change and shows we are doing something right.
"We would have taken six points from two games before the start, but there was a little bit of disappointment in the changing room afterwards, we wanted to win to put us clear at the top.
"It is important now we put in another big performance against Zebre this week.
"They are a team to be wary of. The Italian teams can perform well at home, we have to make sure we deal with the travel and get our mindset right for the game."
Tonight's clash in Parma will be the last before the Scarlets international contingent head off to prepare for the forthcoming autumn Test series.
Seven are linking up with Warren Gatland's Wales camp, while flanker John Barclay is heading to Scotland after being named in Scott Johnson's training squad.
It says much for Ball's impact this season that his name was mentioned in dispatches during the build-up to Gatland's squad announcement.
Born in Ascot and raised in Perth, he qualifies for Wales through his father who hails from Colwyn Bay.
"It is nice to have people thinking I am getting there, but I appreciate that I have a bit to go," he insisted.
"If the time is right and I am playing well then maybe, but I am just concentrating on the Scarlets and getting as many starts and playing as well as I can here.
"I appreciate if I want to play for Wales I have to earn my spot and I appreciate there are players who have played a lot of rugby for Wales in that position.
"For me, it is all about playing for the Scarlets at the moment."