Quick-healing Mitchell eyes early return
CRAIG Mitchell is on course for a rapid recovery from the shoulder operation that forced him to miss Wales's tour of Australia.
Rob Howley's squad headed Down Under without specialist tight-head back-up for Adam Jones as former Osprey Mitchell was booked for surgery.
But, six weeks after going under the knife, Mitchell is progressing well and could even start the season on time for Exeter in the Aviva Premiership.
"There's a decent chance I'll be ready for the off," said the 26-year-old.
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"The injury I had was quite bad. I had a tear in my right shoulder and it was giving me a lot of grief. I would have liked to have made the tour but the decision was taken for me to undergo surgery and, fingers crossed, everything seems to be coming together.
"I'm ahead of schedule and quite positive about when I'll be back."
Mitchell hasn't featured at Test level since the World Cup date with Namibia in New Plymouth last September, though the ex-Neath man did shadow Jones during the Six Nations.
His fitness is important to Wales as there are no other dedicated No. 3s in Welsh rugby who have shown they are yet up to international standard, with the Scarlets' Rhodri Jones a work in progress and the Blues' Scott Andrews having fallen off the radar.
Mitchell played 21 times for Exeter in English rugby's top tier last season and performed soundly when Jones had an injury ahead of the 2011 Six Nations campaign.
Mitchell made 33 tackles in Wales's first three games in that championship, a figure a back-row forward would have been happy to put his name to, and impressed the Wales management with his industry.
Now he is keen to see more Wales action. "If I'm in the mix in the autumn it would be brilliant," he said.
"I feel I'm a better player after the year I've had playing in the Premiership. I've had a fair amount of rugby and that has been good for my game.
"It is a bit more edgy in the Aviva because there's a fear of going down and every game seems to have something on it, but the Pro12 is strong as well.
"My focus now is on getting back for Exeter and then playing consistently well and hopefully winning a place in the Wales squad.
"I'm still hungry to play for my country. It's something I have always valued hugely."