Leinster v Scarlets: Battling Aled Davies out to stake his claim
HIS knee may have taken a battering over the last couple of years, but Aled Davies's confidence has not been shaken one bit.
When the 20-year-old scrum-half ran out for the Scarlets' Heineken Cup clash against Exeter Chiefs in Llanelli in December, it marked the end of a long journey back from two major knee operations.
Davies tore his anterior cruciate ligament in training before Wales Under-20s Six Nations campaign in 2011, then after a brief comeback, suffered a relapse and was forced to go under the knife once more.
Spending the best part of 18 months on the sidelines would be a mental test of even the most seasoned campaigner.
But you won't find Davies dwelling on the past.
"It has been a tough couple of years with injury. Go back just over a year ago and I was on crutches, but you just have to take it in your stride. You always think of the ultimate goal and I think it has made me a better player and a better person," he said.
"What kept me going was knowing I am good enough. I kept confidence in myself and wanted to come back and show what I could do.
"After the injury you appreciate every game and every training session."
Davies, like many others in the Scarlets camp, endured a tough festive period and ended up back playing for Llanelli RFC in the new year.
But he has already shown in his short professional career that he is a battler and has won back the Scarlets No. 9 jersey with some impressive displays over the last three weeks.
With Tavis Knoyle released from Six Nations duty for tomorrow's Pro12 clash with Leinster, Gareth Davies breathing down his neck and Rhodri Williams starring for Wales Under-20s, Davies recognises he now has another fight on his hands.
But it is something he is relishing.
"It is great. You have got to be on your game every training session and every game, it keeps you on your toes," said the Ysgol Bro Myrddin product.
"I just want to nail down that starting position, that is my aim. I want to be able to say I am number one here."
And if he can do that, then who knows what the future will bring with national squad places up for grabs behind Mike Phillips in the Welsh pecking order.
Knoyle, Lloyd Williams and Rhys Webb have all occupied that spot in recent times, Gareth Davies has been knocking on the door, while the Ospreys' Wales Under-20s half-back Tom Habberfield is another looking to make a name for himself. Possessing a pass as sharp as anyone in the regional game, Davies is hoping to keep impressing as the Scarlets prepare for another crucial contest in their quest for an end-of-season play-off spot.
Three successive victories have provided a massive lift to morale at Parc y Scarlets after a run of eight defeats in nine matches threatened to throw the season off the rails.
Davies and his 20-year-old half-back buddy Owen Williams have been a major part of that rehabilitation, benefiting from their partnership at club level with Llanelli.
Last weekend against Leinster, Williams outshone veteran Ireland No. 10 Ronan O'Gara, while Davies was a lively presence throughout, mixing up his game intelligently.
"I have had a run of games in the last few weeks and I have been happy with my performances. The team is going well as well," he added.
"Myself and Owen are quite good mates, we have played with each other quite a bit and understand each other's game.
"It has been good and hopefully I can keep hold of the jersey for the rest of the season."
Looking forward to tomorrow's contest at the RDS, Davies added: "It is probably the best time to play them (with all their internationals missing) and we have got to go there with confidence and try to take advantage.
"They are a quality side, though, and it is going to be tough whatever side they put out.
"We know the next few weeks are huge for us. It was good to get a win against a top side like Munster last weekend because we have been working hard here trying to put things right. There has been a good buzz around the group over the last couple of weeks and hopefully we can take that to Leinster."