In an ideal world, Jonah Holmes would have spent this week preparing to be part of one of the biggest match-ups at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Wales take on Australia on Sunday in Tokyo in the fixture that may just decide the winner of Pool D and Holmes says it was “gutting” to have not been selected after bursting on to the international scene during last season, thanks to his red-hot form for Leicester Tigers.
However, always the optimist, Holmes says the silver lining of the non-selection presented another exciting opportunity.
“It was a really, really tough camp,” Holmes recalls of the World Cup training programme with the Welsh side.
“It’s obviously gutting not to have be picked, as it for any team.
“But the silver lining for me is that I got to return to Tigers and be back here for the start of the new season and be here at a really exciting time for this club.”
Holmes made the move to Tigers ahead of the 2017/18 season after stints with Wasps, London Welsh and Yorkshire Carnegie and – as the man himself admits – struggled to make a mark during his debut campaign with the club.
With two years behind me here, I feel more optimistic and more positive coming in to the season than I have in the past two seasons
But, with two seasons now behind him, and a second that saw him not only become a mainstay in Tigers matchday squad but also an international, Holmes says he is much more “settled” in the red, white and green.
“It’s nice to be in a work environment, if you can call it that, feeling settled,” says the 27-year-old.
“I’m not comfortable, you never are in this job, but I feel settled at this club.
“With two years behind me here, I feel more optimistic and more positive coming in to the season than I have in the past two seasons.”
It’s not only his on-field form that has him feeling more optimistic, it’s also the refreshed environment he has returned to at Oval Park after an off-season that saw a host of changes and new processes implemented at the club.
“It goes hand in hand with all the changes the club has gone through over the past six months, which are all extremely positive, but I feel like I am in a really, really good place,” he adds.
“The programme has changed and with it, the work ethic has changed.”
One of the biggest changes has been the injection of more 25 new faces in to the senior and development squads, including the largest ever intake of Tigers Academy graduates in the club’s history.
Despite only having been back a fortnight, Holmes has already noticed the positive, refreshing influence each of the new recruits and youngsters have provided.
“I’ve only been back two weeks, but things are really positive,” says the Welsh international.
“Things are really good here at the club.
“Above all, the kids that have come up and the new guys that have come in are all quality.”
Holmes is not only impressed with the people that have arrived in Leicester for the new season, but also the players and the “competition” among members of the squad with the increased depth.
“There is real competition within the squad,” he added.
“It really does [feel that way on the pitch].
“The physicality from the younger lads, all the way through to the senior players is equal and that’s great to see.
“The work ethic is high, the effort boys are putting in to training is high.”
Looking back, Holmes remembers when he came in to a Wasps squad that included superstars of the game including Serge Betsen, Phil Vickery, Simon Shaw, Rikkie Flutey – to name just a few – and how he sat back and bit his tongue in the early days.
There is no divides in this group, no feelings of players being bigger or better than others in the squad and it’s really, really positive going in to a new season
But, now at 27 and with international experience, the senior member of the Tigers group is impressed with the equal standing from top-to-bottom across the Leicester squad.
“Traditionally, younger boys are shy when they come in – and maybe they were when they first came in, when I wasn’t here – but it doesn’t feel that way, it’s a really level playing field,” says the wise, old Holmes.
Unaccepting of the “senior” tag just yet, Holmes reluctantly acknowledges his new role in the squad.
“I guess with age, I probably am [a senior player] now,” he says through gritted teeth.
Before going on to say: “To be honest, the way the team is at the moment, I just feel like this squad is only a really level playing field.”
“All the teams I’ve been part of, which I have really enjoyed being in, are those that have been ones where all the boys are on a level playing field.
“There is no divides in this group, no feelings of players being bigger or better than others in the squad and it’s really, really positive going in to a new season.”
Holmes has been named on the right wing for the club’s first home game of the new season, in a much stronger outfit than travelled to Worcester in the opening round of the Premiership Cup, and can’t wait to run out at Welford Road again.
“Of course I am excited, especially being back at Welford Road,” says a smiling Holmes.
“I can’t wait to be back out there again … I’m looking forward to playing for Tigers again, very much.”
And, while it might not be a do-or-die World Cup Pool game in the red of Wales, it’s safe to say the Tigers Family are just as excited to see Holmes back in red, white and green.