'It makes a nice change for me going into games not having to be wrapped up in strapping beforehand'
THE Scarlets back row may no longer resemble the number of the beast, but Josh Turnbull is relishing the chance to get his teeth stuck into the Pro12 leaders tomorrow.
Last season, Turnbull, Aaron Shingler and Rob McCusker — all players who prefer the No. 6 on their backs — packed down alongside each other in the Scarlets breakaway.
However, the arrival of specialist openside flanker John Barclay has changed all that.
The Scotland international's return to fitness and a neck injury to Shingler has meant Turnbull has been restored to his favoured blindside role in the last couple of weeks.
And having himself overcome surgery on a shoulder injury that has hampered his progress over the last couple of seasons, the 25-year-old Wales international is champing at the bit to make his mark this season. "I feel fresher than I have done for a while," said the Newcastle Emlyn product, who won the last of his five caps against Argentina 11 months ago.
"I had both shoulders done at the end of last season, a minor op on the right one and more of a stabilisation of the left. It needed to be done.
"I had an operation in 2011 when the World Cup was on, but a bit of plastic snapped off and caused a few problems and I had a bit of trouble with it during the Six Nations period last season.
"I had a chat with Simon (Easterby) and Andy (Walker) from the medical team and it was decided to get the op done at the end of last season.
"It meant missing out on the Japan tour with Wales, but if it hadn't been done then I would in the position now of still rehabbing and not playing.
"It makes a nice change for me going into games not having to be wrapped up in strapping beforehand."
When all four international back-rowers are at full fitness, Turnbull acknowledges it is going to be a real scrap to earn his spot in the side.
His versatility means he can, and has, operated across all three positions as well as lock, but it is clear it is at blindside where he feels most at home.
"I have been probably playing out of position for the last couple of seasons," he admitted. "Now, with John coming in it means there is even more competition with myself and Aaron vying for that No. 6 jersey.
"John is a specialist seven, he is an experienced performer and Glasgow's loss is definitely our gain. It does also give the back row a batter balance and for a blindside you look to try to work together with your openside — like how Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton combine for Wales.
"The competition for places is what the coaches want at the end of the day and it is up to whoever is wearing that jersey to put in a performance that is good enough to keep it for the next game."
That next game is the visit of a Glasgow side who have won all four of their opening matches in the Pro12 this term.
"It will be our toughest test yet, as a side, and as a back row," added Turnbull.
"We have always found we need to raise our game at the contact area when we play Glasgow; although speaking to John (Barclay) this week, he said last season they had to change the way they played against us because we had dominance in that area.
"This is a big game for John, it always is when you are playing against your former side, but it is also massive for us and it is important we keep on building now after the win in Edinburgh last weekend.
"It's been one of those seasons so far; a loss followed by a win, then a loss followed by another win. We need to start showing more consistency.
"We spoke this week how much another win at the weekend could do for our league standing as well as confidence — three wins from five would look a lot better and send us into Europe into good heart."
The Scarlets will certainly take heart from their performances against the Warriors last term, claiming an early 18-13 win at Scotstoun before seeing off the Scottish side 29-6 at Parc y Scarlets in one of their most complete displays of the season.
The West Walians will be facing a side brimming with confidence, not to mention international quality with former Scarlets favourite Sean Lamont and British Lions Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Ryan Grant among a host of Scotland stars in the ranks, while the likes of South African No. 8 Josh Strauss, Canadian wing DTH van der Merwe and livewire Fijian scrum-half Niko Matalwalu have been key overseas additions in recent years.
"Glasgow have a strong squad and have recruited well, the league table also shows how well they have started the season," added Turnbull
"It is going to be tough, but our focus will be on getting our game right.
"We have worked hard in pre-season, on our set-piece game in particular, and the line-out and scrum in attack and defence has been going well so far.
"We feel we have the squad here that can make the play-offs once again this season and a win tomorrow will be huge for us — both for our league ambitions and with Europe around the corner."