Peers ready to make an impact at region
YOU should never meet your heroes, or so the old saying suggests. But Lloyd Peers seems to have dismissed that advice, and the young Ospreys lock is thriving as a result.
Peers has had a remarkable few weeks. Having spent the majority of the season with hometown club Bridgend, the 21-year-old was selected in the Ospreys' side which beat European champions Leinster earlier this month.
He then played two more matches in the LV= Cup and, with just seven career regional appearances to his name, Peers was invited to train with the Wales squad.
"It came a bit out of the blue, the Wales call-up," Peers says, still grinning with surprise.
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"I didn't think everything would come into play so quickly, but it's a great honour."
Not many Welsh fans will have known who Peers was when the Wales Under-20s international was drafted in to the senior set-up as cover for the injured Alun Wyn Jones.
In fact, for those outside Bridgend or the Ospreys region, the 6ft 4in battering ram may still be something of an unknown quantity.
But for the established stars with whom Peers has been training recently, the youngster appears to have made a lasting impression.
"It was a great experience training with the Welsh squad," he adds.
"I learnt my lesson before I went there not to take a step back or be in awe of everyone — even if they're the best players in Wales.
"As intensity goes, it's as intense as it can get. It was a great learning curve for me. Hopefully I can take that forward with the Ospreys.
"It would be nice to get another call but my main focus is with the Ospreys and cementing my place here."
The lesson of standing your ground in training, Peers says, was one he picked up rather quickly at the Ospreys' Llandarcy headquarters.
As a nervous teenager, Peers recalls his first few sessions with the senior squad, the daunting prospect of playing alongside those he used to revere as idols.
There were a couple of players in particular who the lock used to look up to but, these days, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Ospreys' second-row heavyweights is no issue for the towering Peers. "Maybe it's bad to say but Ian Gough was my hero a few years back, before I was in the set-up," he says.
"He was the player I looked up to, the one I wanted to play like.
"Over the last couple of years, Alun Wyn has taken over and done it for the British Lions and Wales as well as the Ospreys.
"It's been a really big learning curve, just training with them never mind playing in the same team. It's a great experience."
For Peers, meeting his heroes has been anything but the disappointment the aforementioned adage suggests it tends to be. Far from it, where the Bridgend man is concerned, picking the brains of his idols is the way to muscle his way into the Ospreys' first-team reckoning.
"The Ospreys is the best place to be for a front-five forward," Peers adds.
"You've got Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans to learn off in the second row and we have front-rowers in the Welsh team, so it's the best place to be to learn.
"It's good for me, coming through at Bridgend, biding my time and waiting for my chance to play for the Ospreys.
"Alun Wyn especially, he plays my position out and out. He's really approachable.
"Then you've got Ian Gough as well, who's been there and done it.
"There's a lot of experience there which is really good for me — you can go and speak to them about anything you don't understand, and they'll point you in the right direction."
There are no shortage of mentors for Peers at the Ospreys, though the 21-year-old is not content to be a mere pupil — he is happy to throw his weight around as well.
"When you first come up here it's really daunting. You sort of get caught up and take a step back," he says.
"Then you learn you shouldn't take a step back, and that you've just got to keep going at them.
"Training can get quite fierce. It's a contact sport and you have to earn your respect as a youngster.
"Nothing bad has happened. Everyone gets stuck into each other on the training field, but we're friends off it."
Peers will make his second league start for the Ospreys tonight when they return to RaboDirect Pro12 action away at Edinburgh.
With two of the region's first-choice locks, Jones and Evans, both out injured and a number of other players away on international duty, this is an opportunity for the likes of Peers to stake their claim for a regular starting place in the Ospreys' side.
"I think it's huge for me playing in the Pro12. It's a big step up from Premiership and from LV= Cup rugby," he says.
"To do that week in, week out would be a great honour for me. Representing your home region is what everyone wants to do.
"It's definitely where you want to start. You need a chance, for the boys to be away, and you really need to take that chance.
"I want to prove myself and keep that jersey, not only when they're away but when they're back as well.
"It's big for me to try to get into the Ospreys side regularly. That's my aim."