Forgotten Exeter winger Jack Nowell wants to seize his moment in front of Warren Gatland on Friday night and make a late bid for Lions selection.
Nowell will start his first match since October, when he played through the European and Premiership finals with fully ruptured ligaments in his big toe.
Gatland will attend the game against Bristol with his assistant Neil Jenkins, as he begins to finalise his 36-man squad ahead of next month’s announcement.
Exeter winger Jack Nowell will start his first match since October against Bristol on Friday
‘I’m desperate to go again,’ said Nowell, who featured in two Tests on the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand.
‘I’ve had a taste of it, I know how good it is, and I know how much it meant to me at the time. So, I’m not going to lie, I’m desperate to go again but if I’m realistic there are a lot of players out there who have played all season and are playing well.
‘The team is being picked in two weeks’ time. Hopefully I can perform where I left off in October. I know that seems a long time ago but I’m feeling very, very fresh and good to go. I’ve just got to focus on playing well for Exeter and then leave it down to the coaches to decide.’
Nowell faces stiff competition for Lions selection from the likes of Josh Adams, Jonny May, Louis Rees-Zammit, Duhan van der Merwe and Anthony Watson.
Nowell played in the European and Premiership finals with ruptured ligaments in his big toe
However, Nowell offers the most combative option, and he is now hoping for a swift return to form after six months of rehabilitation.
‘There was no way I was going to miss the European final and then the chance to do the double,’ added Nowell. ‘Pretty much all of the ligaments that go from your big toe to your foot had snapped, but as soon as the surgeon said I couldn’t do anymore damage I just decided that I was going to grit my teeth for two 80-minute games. It was the worst pain I’ve ever had.
‘If you look back at a few clips from those games, I’m pushing off on the outside of my foot because the toe was strapped up. You couldn’t play your career like that but what’s the worst you can do in two games?
‘Afterwards, the surgeon found the ligaments, stretched them back out and reattached them with screws to the bone of the foot and the toe.’
Lions coach Warren Gatland will attend the game against Bristol with his assistant Neil Jenkins
Nowell spent his time on the sidelines with his two young children, while also working on his clothing brand, Mustard.
Now he is ready to channel his efforts into Exeter’s Premiership push, after the club’s European title defence ended prematurely with a defeat by Leinster last week.
‘I was desperate to get back for the Six Nations, to be honest,’ said Nowell. ‘That was a target I had and I did everything I could to do that. But I tore my hammy in the process of doing that, which was a bit of a stinker. I’ve had six months of not playing so I should come back fresh. It’s probably the best I’ve felt and I’m absolutely buzzing to get back out there with the boys.’