Richard Hibbard thanks ex-Ospreys boss Scott Johnson for weight jibe as Wales face Scotland
AFTER watching Richard Hibbard charge at opponents and hurtle into tackles with a maniacal disregard for his own safety, it would take a brave man to suggest the wild-haired Wales hooker should lose a bit of weight.
But Hibbard's former coach at the Ospreys and now the man in charge of Scotland, Scott Johnson, is, among many things, a brave man.
When the Australian was at the Liberty Stadium, he claimed Hibbard's imperfect physique was the reason for his omission from Wales's 2012 Six Nations squad.
At first, it prompted a humorous response from the hooker as he wrote a series of tongue-in-cheek tweets on the theme of Diary of a Fat Kid.
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Then came the serious work, with Hibbard trimming himself down to his current 17st 9lbs frame which he now hurls around the field to such devastating effect.
Johnson's quip appeared to spark the desired reaction, with Hibbard's dynamic displays earning him the Ospreys' player of the year award last season.
The 29-year-old has since gone on to establish himself as Wales's first-choice hooker, and the two men will be reunited tomorrow when Wales visit Scotland, now coached by Johnson.
"I loved Scott. I always got on well with him except for one incident which a few of you wrote about," Hibbard says with a broad smile, nodding at the group of journalists gathered around him at Wales's training ground.
"He said it was out of context and I said 'No, they have quoted you and it was shown on TV'!
"I thought he was great — he could be a riddler in certain aspects but he was really good.
"It shows as we still won the league last season after he left, and a lot of it was down to Sean (Holley, the Ospreys' former coach) and Johnno and the momentum they had built early in the season.
''I will always have a lot of time for them.''
Hibbard seems genuinely fond of Johnson, looking back at his former coach's comments and laughing them off as a "lovers' tiff".
The Ospreys front-rower admits Johnson's remarks had initially stung, but he now views them as the catalyst for his recent surge in form.
"When I read the headline, I took it to heart and the banter after it is the worst as the boys will kill you and it is relentless," he says.
"It gave me a kick up the backside.
''I dropped a few kilos, I started doing extras with Adam (Jones) and working hard, as we both tend to struggle in that area, and it has paid dividends.
"I went in (Johnson's) office and came out confused as he made me feel I was in the wrong!
"I don't hold it against him — if that was his feeling, fair enough.
''He did what he needed and it got a reaction out of me and it worked."
It is clear to see why Hibbard and Johnson got on so well — "lovers' tiff" aside — because the two are similar characters; jocular and loud yet thoughtful and thorough beyond the playful surface.
But when Johnson is not pondering his next soundbite — "I'm so competitive I'll fight you for marbles" or "stats are like bikinis'' come to mind — the former Wales assistant is slavishly devoted to his primary duty: coaching.
"I thought he was a great coach," Hibbard adds.
"You can see from their style of play that Scotland are more open (under Johnson).
"They are scoring tries again, which is good as it makes the tournament more competitive and it should be a very good game."
With a back three of Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Sean Maitland, Scotland certainly pose a more incisive attacking threat than they have done in recent seasons.
And although Wales's last two matches have only yielded three tries, Rob Howley's side will be looking to make the game at Murrayfield as open as possible.
"The difference in tempo between regional and Test rugby is incredible," Hibbard says.
"Wales play with a high ball-in-play time which is demanding, and after 60 minutes it opens up, which is where we tend to win games.
"The last two games we have looked to wear sides down and, by 60 minutes, it seems to go in favour of us in all areas.
''Hopefully it will be same again this weekend."
Tomorrow's match will be Hibbard's 22nd cap for Wales, but only his eighth start.
What is more telling, however, is the fact that this will be the first time the hooker has ever started three games in succession for his country.
Hibbard has proven himself to be a consistently excellent performer for the Ospreys, though he has never been given the opportunity to showcase his ability for Wales on a regular basis.
This year, it seems his chance has arrived.
"Personally I'm happy to get a run as I tend to get better as it goes on," he goes on.
"I am happy to be chosen again but I don't take it for granted so I have to be even better this week.
"You are not guaranteed selection and it is doing us wonders, as you can see in the last two results.
"You cannot have an off game as the next person will be in line and will deserve his chance, given how the boys have been training and using their playing time.
"You cannot rest for one second, no matter your position. It keeps you on your toes."