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'It's one of my major regrets': There is something Rhys Priestland would do very differently if he had his time over again

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

Bath out-half Rhys Priestland has revealed that his lax approach to mental health in the earlier part of his career is one of his biggest regrets as he prepares to head back to Wales and keep his career going with Cardiff in the Guinness PRO16. The 34-year-old has spent the last six seasons in the Gallagher Premiership after establishing himself at the Scarlets and breaking his way into the international set-up under Warren Gatland in 2011.

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Priestland went on to play 50 times for his country before the 60-cap rule for players based outside Wales made him unavailable. His decision to join the Blues will now put him back in the mix under Wayne Pivac and he goes there having played 91 times in the Premiership, 71 of those appearances as a starter with Bath including Friday night’s loss to Sale.

These past few weeks Priestland has been the Bath ambassador for the RPA’s Restart mental health charity, a topic close to his heart as he admitted to RugbyPass that if he had his time over again he would bring a different attitude to rugby and life rather than allow himself to be suffocated by the negatives – as was the case during numerous years not so long ago when he didn’t have the tools to cope better with the pressures.

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“I’m a lot better,” he said. “It’s something I have had to work hard on. I was guilty a bit at the start. If someone asked me how are you after not even a poor performance, if things outside rugby were getting me down, you’d just brush it off and say I’m fine.

“It seemed like the macho thing to do but I now realise you don’t have to do it on your own, there are people out there who can help you. It is something I have worked hard on and it has made me a better person. I’m nowhere near as miserable to be around if some things don’t go well on a rugby field anymore and that is important as well because it has helped me realise there can be more to life than rugby.

“I definitely wasn’t (the most confident player I could have been). If I had my time again that is one thing I would have focused more of my time and energy into that. At the time I couldn’t see the wood from the trees. I didn’t realise how important it [mental health] was. It’s one of my major regrets from my career. There we are.”

Set to be replaced at Bath by Danny Cipriani, Priestland reckons he will now return to Wales a better player due to the greater level of mindfulness that came to the fore during his time in England. “I think so,” he continued. “Although I haven’t achieved or we haven’t achieved what we sort of set out to achieve every season since I have been here (at Bath), I can look back at my time and definitely think I’m a more rounded person.

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“Probably a better person as well so hopefully I can take those experiences back with me and if I can play any sort of part of influence any players at Cardiff who are coming through that would be great.

It’s a fantastic initiative,” he added about Restart and its ambition to grow awareness around mental health in rugby. “One thing that has come from this pandemic is how important people’s mental health is. It’s something I have struggled with in the past and it’s something I have been very proactive with in terms of trying to make sure my mental health is in the best state it possibly can be.

“The more awareness that we as rugby players can bring to this sort of subject and what the charity stands for and what the campaign is trying to achieve the better, that it is okay not to be okay. There is still a stigma in rugby that it is a macho sport and you just have to get on with it but it’s not the case. The world has moved on and this charity can hopefully help people and make them realise they are not on their own.”

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mitch 48 minutes ago
The Wallabies team Joe Schmidt must pick to win back Bledisloe Cup

Rodda will be a walk up starter at lock. Frost if you analyse his dominance has little impact and he’s a long way from being physical enough, especially when you compare to Rodda and the work he does. He was quite poor at the World Cup in his lack of physicality. Between Rodda and Skelton we would have locks who can dominate the breakdown and in contact. Frost is maybe next but Schmidt might go for a more physical lock who does their core work better like Ryan or LSL. Swain is no chance unless there’s a load of injuries. Pollard hasn’t got the scrum ability yet to be considered. Nasser dominated him when they went toe to toe and really showed him up. Picking Skelton effects who can play 6 and 8. Ideally Valetini would play 6 as that’s his best position and Wilson at 8 but that’s not ideal for lineout success. Cale isn’t physical enough yet in contact and defence but is the best backrow lineout jumper followed by Wright, Hanigan and Swinton so unfortunately Valetini probably will start at 8 with Wright or Hanigan at 6. Wilson on the bench, he’s got too much quality not to be in the squad. Paisami is leading the way at 12 but Hamish Stewart is playing extremely well also and his ball carrying has improved significantly. Beale is also another option based on the weekend. Beale is class but he’s also the best communicator of any Australian backline player and that can’t be underestimated, he’ll be in the mix.

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