England wing Jack Nowell is preparing to hit the road again after undergoing “almost like a big MOT” this summer.
Nowell missed England’s three-Test South Africa tour in June following a testing campaign last season when injuries hit him hard.
But after having ankle ligament surgery two months ago, the 26 times-capped Exeter back is firmly on course towards reaching maximum output.
“Last season was probably one of my worst seasons,” Nowell said.
“I felt like I didn’t really get into my stride. There were a couple of injuries, and you always feel like you are chasing.
“Hopefully, I can get into a position where I am not really chasing my fitness or chasing games, and I can just be fit for the whole thing.
“I have almost used this off-season as a real time to sit down and not just rehab my ankle, but some other niggles that I had.
“The ankle was my main thing, but I have also spent a lot of time on my shoulder, neck, knees and my leg strength. It’s almost like a big MOT.
“I was devastated to miss the South Africa tour, but sometimes in a rugby player’s career you almost need to take a step back and say ‘what’s best for my career and what’s best for my body at this time’.
“Hopefully, I will come back better, stronger and have a better season than I did last year.”
Nowell, a 2017 British & Irish Lion, has not started an England Test since the Six Nations game against Scotland at Twickenham last year.
The likes of Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown filled England’s wing berths during last season’s Six Nations and the South Africa trip, but a fit and firing Nowell would give head coach Eddie Jones another notable selection option.
“The big thing I have always focused on is playing well for my club,” Nowell added. “If that happens, then other things can come from that.
“At the moment, I don’t have a spot in the England team, so it is for me to fight for that back, get fit for Exeter and start playing well.”
Exeter, Premiership finalists in each of the past three seasons, are likely to again feature prominently among the title challengers.
It is more than two months since the Chiefs lost to Saracens at Twickenham – a second final defeat of their title-bid triumvirate – and Nowell said: “It was one of the most gutting feelings I’ve had.
“It was twice as bad as the first time we lost (in 2016 against Saracens).
“The first year we were almost happy to be there, to have been there and done it, but then after winning it the following season and then getting to a final again and losing again, was devastating.
“You can feel the hunger in pre-season. The boys are flying, and eager for the season to start.”
*Jack Nowell was speaking at the opening of Exeter Chiefs’ new fitness analysis suite, launched in partnership with Red Bull.
Chris Ashton has revealed that homesickness as well as the determination to relaunch his England career underpinned his decision to swap Toulon for Sale.
Ashton’s stunning form in his debut season in the French Top 14 that saw him set a new try-scoring record of 24 rekindled his international ambitions with the 2019 World Cup looming.
Being named in Eddie Jones’ pre-season training squad that gathered in London over the weekend edged him closer to his goal, although it was only when added to the squad’s WhatsApp group that he knew of his selection.
Also influencing the request to end his Toulon deal with two years still to serve, however, was the desire to return to the north west of England with his wife Melissa and daughter Ava.
“Playing in France was exactly what I thought it was going to be – a different culture and environment. I’m a better person and player for experiencing it,” the former Northampton and Saracens wing said.
“It was a great experience for me and my family but we also understood how much we appreciate our families at home.
“We both have big families and going out there with a young baby and looking to have more babies we found harder than we anticipated.
“Although Toulon is not far away, it felt far away at times. We definitely feel more settled back in England.
“It means quite a lot for me to be at home and with my family. There’s no other place in England I can relate going back to like that.
“I’ve been away for 11, 12 years so I felt it was a nice time to go back and play rugby up there.”
Once Ashton had resolved to return to England, his next task was to convince temperamental Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal to grant him early release from his contract.
“Mourad would have rather I stayed, but him and the club were good for me,” Ashton said.
“I’m grateful he was understanding of the situation and allowed me to return home. The only place I really wanted to go was Sale. They were with me throughout the process.”
It was before his appearance for the Barbarians against England in June that Ashton first made his intentions public and having agreed to join Sale he became available for selection under the rules set by the Rugby Football Union.
A blistering first-half hat-trick against the team he served over 39 caps issued a timely reminder of his finishing prowess and he spoke to Jones either side of the game.
“I was just hoping to play well against England for the Barbarians. I did see it as a good opportunity to… not send a message but play well to say I am still hanging around,” the 31-year-old said.
“Playing abroad in France maybe brought the best out of me in terms of my rugby and I still felt I had a lot to offer and have a good go at playing for England again.”
The UAE romped their way to success at to the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy, convincingly coming home with the trophy and the knowledge that they will play Asian Sevens Series rugby later this year.
The standard of opposition wasn’t the most scintillating in Singapore, but Apollo Perelini’s men beat the two best sides at the tournament apart from themselves – the hosts and Thailand – to reign supreme in the second tier of sevens.
It will now allow them to tangle once again with Asia’s top teams – including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka – after a three-year hiatus.
By virtue of winning the Cup section in Singapore, the UAE will join the other seven nations in the three-legged series which begins in Hong Kong next month.
The opening leg of the 2018 tournament will be played between September 14-15; the second in Korea from September 29-30 and the third in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from October 13-14.
“Hard work pays off,” said a delighted Jaen Botes after the Dubai Exiles powerhouse helped the UAE defeat the hosts 14-0 in Sunday’s final.
“On to the next chapter and I’m excited to keep working on achieving milestones. It’s been a great few days with great people. I’m proud to represent the UAE.”
The UAE regularly tussled with the continent’s finest up until 2015. But they would always receive invites to play in the Series rather than earn the right to feature outright. They narrowly avoided automatic qualification two years ago and have since had to play in the second-tier Trophy.
They had lost previously in the semi-finals to Thailand last year and in the last four of the Development Sevens Series in Al Ain in 2016 to the same opposition.
But the Thais were swept aside on Sunday in the semis, the UAE setting up a final showdown with Singapore thanks to a convincing 26-0 victory.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ fly-half Luke Stevenson scored two tries and potted two conversions while there was also a ninth try of the weekend for Jebel Ali Dragons danger man Niko Volavola. Kinivilame Natuna also crossed in a convincing win.
It was a tighter affair in the final at Queenstown Stadium, but the UAE sealed a monumental triumph with scores from Stevenson and Natuna again, with the Quins man adding the extras.
It may have been against largely inferior opposition but there were no hiccups for Perelini and his players who conceded just 10 points in five matches all weekend – while scoring an aggregate of 169 themselves.
Volavola’s haul had included hat-tricks in a 48-0 blowout of Nepal in their Pool B opener and another in the 45-5 triumph over Indonesia.
Jordan were also beaten 36-5 on Saturday to set up a showdown with their nemesis, Thailand.
But two years of misery was replaced by victory as the UAE progressed to the final, where they held their nerve to earn promotion to the elite level.