Lock James Down admits he is delighted to be back 'home' after returning for a second spell at Cardiff Blues - and the second row insists he comes back a stronger and better player for his time away.
The 27-year-old this week re-signed for Blues after a season playing in the Aviva Premiership with London Welsh.
Down, who previously made a total of 63 appearances for Cardiff Blues between 2007 and 2014, admits his time in England was difficult as the Exiles were ultimately relegated from the top-flight.
However, the campaign was a personal success for Down who attracted a number of admiring glances from clubs in England and France over his playing future.
But there was never any doubt where his heart was and after completing a return to Blues he is eager to prove how much he has improved.
“It’s lovely to be back at my home and my region. There are some familiar faces and some new ones as well,” said Down.
“I have benefitted from my spell away. I have been play regularly and the English Premiership is tough for forwards with driving mauls, scrums and lineouts; all aspects of the game. I feel I have improved all areas and feel I have come back a stronger and better player.
“It was hard as a team for London Welsh,” he added. “I was playing every week and felt we had a strong lineout and competed with best lineouts in England and it’s a hard league.
“The big challenge here now is to try and get in the team and it pushes you to be better. We have Jarrad Hoeata, who is an All Black and it doesn’t get better than that, plus guys like Lou Reed who has played for Wales. Young lads coming through too, I have to raise my game.”
Down returns to a region under new leadership in Danny Wilson and he revealed he had been impressed by the new man in charge and the environment at the training base.
“I actually knew Danny from my Academy days when he was a Skills Coach and his career has gone from strength to strength since then. It’s nice to be back working with him at the Blues now he is Head Coach.
“There is a really positive atmosphere. It was a hard year at London Welsh so it’s nice to come to strong environment where everyone is buzzing and looking to improve.
“I’ve had some positive reaction from fans about coming back and they have always been great with me.
“They are fantastic supporters at Cardiff Blues and I always remember what it feels like to run out at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park and hear that noise. I’m looking forward to getting back to that.”
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