England and Exeter winger Jack Nowell looks set to return to action in March after being sidelined for four months with a toe injury and believes he will be coming back as a more mature player.
Having helped the Chiefs to a domestic and European double after clinching the Premiership and Champions Cup last October, the 27-year-old is aiming for a return to the national team set-up. However, while he has big ambitions, he has learned not to hurry back too soon.
“I’d be the first to admit that I’ve rushed back from injuries in the past, but it’s all part of the learning experience,” he said. “I have had nine operations and I think the toughest part is often recovering mentally.
“Even as a child, I wasted so much of my time worrying to the point that I could not sleep well, so moving forward, I am going to try and let loose a bit more and not stress about injuries so that I can focus on enjoying the game. I think this mentality certainly comes from maturing more as a player.”
While he will have to watch England’s Six Nations clash with Wales on Saturday from afar, he hopes he can force his way back into Eddie Jones’ plans and also has an eye on representing the British and Irish Lions again.
“Regaining a spot in the England squad is a big target for me this season,” he revealed. “I’m desperate to get back into England contention and I’ve been working so hard to get myself in the best possible position to stake my claim for a place.
It is going to be tough – there are some top, top players in the England set up at the minute, but I am confident I can work my way back into the team. I never quit, so I’ll be giving my absolute all to get back there.
“Another big focus for me is the British and Lions Tour of South Africa this year. Just knowing how special it is to be involved with the Lions has given me a real hunger to take part in the tour again. I definitely feel like I’ve got a lot more to give on this Lions Tour, so I need to ensure I perform at my best level for Exeter Chiefs first to achieve that.”
Performing at his best level for Exeter is exactly what he did last season and it is up there with his greatest achievement, he believes.
“For me personally it was a career highlight and that’s why I wanted to contribute despite being in pain with the toe injury,” he told Red Bull after appearing on their Decoding Athletes podcast. “The team really dug deep to get both of those trophies back into the changing rooms and it has been great to reflect on an incredible season over two competitions.
“Gaining success in Europe was the one thing missing and it was huge achievement for the team – including Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, who both feature in the first episode of the podcast. I have known Luke since I was five years old and played with Henry since I was about 16, so we have been extremely lucky to go through our rugby journey together. To win on both fronts last year was a special moment for us all.”
While Nowell still has plenty of years left to play at the highest level, he admits he has pondered what to do next and said, “Coming from a hard-working family where my old man is a fisherman, I never considered rugby as a career and now I have been solely focused on the sport for nearly ten years now.
“Retirement is obviously something I think about now I have a family, but I don’t have a clue what I’d want to do just yet. When that time comes, I want to park rugby and try something completely different. I am still young and fit so hopefully there is something out there I can discover and love just as much as I do with rugby.
“Having the surfer Mick Fanning join us on the podcast to discuss his own experience of retirement was a real pinch me moment. Coming from a childhood of surfing in Cornwall, I have always been a big fan and admire his career! Watch this space…”
For now though, Nowell is fully focused on enjoying his rugby, being able to play again and hopefully, representing England.
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