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Tom Rees has carved out a reputation as one of the most respected and talented players of his generation since emerging onto the elite stage
Tom Rees Column
Light at the end of the tunnel
Tom Rees
January 15, 2010
Lee Smith in action for the England rugby league side, England v Australia, Four Nations International, DW Stadium, Wigan, England, October 31, 2009.
Former Leeds Rhinos and England rugby league star Lee Smith has recently linked up with Premiership side London Wasps © Getty Images
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With 2010 underway, another Six Nations looms on the horizon and for the third year I will be watching from the sidelines. It's been three years since my last appearance in the tournament, and that lasted all of 32 minutes before a knee injury ruled me out for the rest.

Then, the next year I managed to get injured a couple of weeks before the start and this year I've managed to miss the entire season building up to the beginning of the tournament. It's not exactly an auspicious record, but I will find coping with the disappointment of missing out easier than in the past. With my previous absences from the competition, I'd trained and played for weeks, targeting the tournament, only to fall at the final hurdle. This time round, my goal is simply to play again, and while I still have ambitions to play for England, my focus will be on returning to the Wasps team.

The tournament itself will be very interesting this year. England have lots of players returning after the difficulties of the autumn, while Wales have had a mixed set of results and players who have been playing nearly non-stop for over a year, but remain very strong. Scotland had a fantastic result that they'll want to build on, Ireland have remained in dangerous form, Italy continue to develop and the French have shown signs of starting to settle after a couple of years of experimentation. All this should add up to an exciting and unpredictable tournament.

It was also interesting to see the inclusion of Shontanye Hape and Chris Ashton in the England squad. Both players have made strong impressions since switching from rugby league, and will hope to emulate Jason Robinson's level of success on the international stage. Another recent league convert is Lee Smith, who has joined Wasps this season after winning the Super League with Leeds Rhinos. Lee has settled in well, despite having a less than ideal start. After a few weeks holiday following the Grand Final, his first week was always going to be tough, he was thrown into an 'A' team game without having trained with the team, and then tweaked his back in the gym. Now, despite several jibes about looking like he could play in the front row, Lee is getting back to fitness, and I look forward to seeing him getting a chance to play after a little more preparation.

My preparation has come on leaps and bounds since Christmas, and while I'm not at the point where I can keep up with my team mates, I at least wouldn't feel quite so embarrassed in a public gym. The most pleasing thing about the last few weeks has to be the return of my confidence in my shoulder. Until now, I haven't been able to imagine throwing a pass let alone tackling anyone with my shoulder, without breaking out into a cold sweat. Now though, I'm already running through my return to contact in my head, and was happy enough with my shoulder to bump our physio into the snow.

 
"To sit and think that I was three or four months away was always difficult, but now that I'm closer to a return, to have a target is just more motivation. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. "
 

In true British style it would be remiss of me not to mention the weather, and while I sympathise with all who have had their lives disrupted, be it no school, difficultly getting to work or not having sport to watch at the weekend, I have been enjoying snow.

Firstly, there was only the second white Christmas I've had in my 25 years of existence, and with the fresh fall this last week, I made the most of my new found strength in my shoulder by building an epic snowman.

It took me an hour and a half, and by the end it felt like I'd done a conditioning session. What started off as a fist-sized snowball became a 5ft monster that I had to enlist the help of Dan Leo to roll the final few metres. The finishing touches were a cone as a hat, fruit and veg facial features, and a pair of my boots for feet, I figured someone might as well get use out of them.

That said, I now have a timeframe to return to playing of five weeks. Initially, not having a date was good for my state of mind, to sit and think that I was three or four months away was always difficult, but now that I'm closer to a return, to have a target is just more motivation. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

© Scrum.com
Wasps & England flanker Tom Rees writes a fortnightly column for ESPNscrum
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