'A compact version of Dan Lydiate' — Sam Lewis is ready for Ospreys challenge
SAM Lewis should have been sending back postcards from Japan this summer, regaling family and friends with tales of sushi, the bullet train and his first cap for Wales.
Instead, a hugely questionable selection decision meant the Ospreys flanker found himself on the rugby equivalent of a staycation.
Despite Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric being away with the Lions in Australia, Wales chose to overlook Lewis for their trip to the Far East, initially not even bothering to pick a specialist No. 7.
That changed when Josh Navidi took the place of the injured Aaron Shingler, but Lewis remained out in the cold, a decision that many at the Ospreys found unfathomable.
The clue as to how highly the youngster is rated at the Liberty came with the former Swansea man being named players' player of the year at the end of last term. Previous winners include Jerry Collins, Justin Tipuric and Richard Hibbard. It is not a bauble that is handed out to anyone. Those who win it have to be able to play a bit.
Lewis, then, could have been forgiven for feeling acutely aggrieved over his Wales omission, but at 22 he has youth on his side and is prepared to bide his time.
"There is huge competition at No. 7 in Wales and we had two great opensides on the Lions tour," said Lewis.
"Hopefully, in the seasons ahead I can push on and challenge.
"I wasn't really surprised that I didn't go to Japan, because Josh Navidi had played more regularly for the Blues and James King did brilliantly for the Ospreys last season.
"I'm young and my goal at the moment is to play as well as I can for the Ospreys and get games under my belt.
"There's a lot of competition in the back row, so it will be pretty tough."
You could say that again. The competition includes King, Ryan Jones, Joe Bearman, Tipuric, Tom Smith, Dan Baker and Tyler Ardron, with young Arthur Ellis on the emerging list as well.
But with the old adage being that offence wins matches, defence wins titles, Lewis still has every chance of establishing himself as a front-liner in the years ahead.
Never was his tackling prowess underlined as much as in the away game against Munster last term.
If it appeared the Richard Webster protege nailed all 23 Munster players that night at Thomond Park, plus the coach and his three assistants, then maybe he did, with his tackle count up to 27 by the time the game finished.
Even Steve Tandy, a man not usually given to superlatives, was hugely impressed, saying: "Sam Lewis was outstanding. He gives his all for the jersey and is a true Osprey. That was a huge performance."
As 5ft 10in and 15st 10lb, Lewis is a compact version of Dan Lydiate, someone who you can imagine sulking all evening in the event of a missed tackle.
The challenge is to develop other areas of his game. "I have to work on my attacking skills," he acknowledged.
"The seven dictates the game nowadays. Not only does he need to scavenge for ball and put in hits, he must also be a good link in the loose."
Lewis was delighted with his award as players' player at the Ospreys. "It was a huge honour," he said.
"It wasn't something I expected. If you look at the list of winners, it's amazing to be a part of.
"But the key is we do well as a team.
"Kahn Fotuali'i will be a big loss, but Tito Tebaldi has looked good in training and the other scrum-halves are a year older as well. I feel we have a stronger squad this season.
"There is no reason why we can't push on for the play-offs."