Leicester Tigers tighthead Joe Heyes is refreshed and ready to go as the countdown to the new season reaches its final fortnight.
Following a breakthrough campaign in 2018/19 – including 22 senior appearances and a trip to the U20s World Championships in Argentina – the front-rower took a well-earned break before returning to his club in July.
“I did a little tour of Europe, which was nice,” he explains. “After coming back from Argentina I did Spain, Greece and Italy and visited Berlin.
“The break was very much needed – I was playing consistently week-in, week-out with Tigers last season, and then on the weeks off I’d be with the Under-20s.
“As a 19-year-old young body it was all a bit sore and stressful, so it was good to get those five weeks and I’m feeling much more refreshed and ready for the new season now.”
“We’ve got exciting plans and exciting places to go.”Joe Heyes
Heyes, who turned 20 during the closing stages of last season, marked his final age-grade appearance with a try in England’s fifth-place play-off against Wales in Rosario, though the tournament served as a bittersweet end to his time in his country’s junior ranks.
“That’s it. Fini. Done,” he continues. “I think I’ve played over 20 age-grade games, so it was good to end with a try.
“I suppose it’s the end of an era, and it was always exciting to go somewhere new. I did some good travelling with age-grade – to South Africa, Argentina, Italy and France – but it is a case of ‘I’ve done that now’, and it’s time to move on and push on to bigger things.
“Age-grade [rugby] doesn’t last forever. You’ve got to get into the business end of things, and that’s where I want to be now.”
Like fellow U20s internationals Tommy Reffell and Sam Costelow, Heyes’ return to domestic duties was an intense one, linking up with his teammates at a military camp in Aldershot.
And, in comparison to previous pre-season preparations, this year’s schedule has been much tougher.
“This one is significantly harder, and the coaches are driving standards higher and higher,” Heyes says.
“We have GPS and heart-rate monitors on us all the time, so even if you look like you’re working hard but you’re actually not, [the coaches] can tell.
“There is no escape, but that’s great because it drives standards and drives players to work harder and improve and everything like that. It’s a much harder pre-season, but it’ll do some good in the long run.
“I think we’ve got 20 guys left from last year and 20 new guys, and there’s a much more positive feeling and vibe around the squad.
“We’ve got exciting plans and exciting places to go.”
For Heyes, his target for the season is simple; pull on the green, white and red as many times as possible.
“Anything can happen,” he continues. “I enjoy playing at Welford Road and I enjoy pulling on the shirt, so as long as I can keep playing for Tigers I want to keep doing that.
“I’ll work hard and see where it gets me.”