Willis Halaholo is relishing the opportunity to make more Welsh derby memories when Cardiff host the Dragons at the Arms Park on Saturday (17.15).
The hot-stepping centre’s first taste of life in Cardiff was watching the Blue and Blacks take on the Scarlets at the Arms Park in 2016.
He has since appeared in 21 Welsh derbies and has often played a starring role as international teammates collide in front of packed houses.
And following frustrating 12 months, Halaholo is looking forward to taking centre stage on Saturday, as Cardiff target back-to-back derby victories.
He said: “It's amazing man. When I first got here, I think 2016, the week I arrived was Cardiff and Scarlets here at Arms Park. Just being in the crowd and and seeing how much it means to everyone and also the boys in the changing room, how fired up everyone was, it’s cool.
“So it’s awesome to be a part of another derby this week and boys will be motivated to bring a bit of consistency and back up our performance last week.”
Cardiff go into the encounter on the back of a hard-fought 16-10 victory over the Scarlets, in which Halaholo made his first start of the season and was one of the brightest attacking sparks.
The Wales international made three clean breaks from six carries at Parc y Scarlets and topped the metres made with 85. On another day, the line-breaks could have been converted into tries.
Now he is hoping to build more minutes and more starts as Cardiff complete their first block of BKT United Rugby Championship fixtures with home games against Dragons, DHL Stormers and Edinburgh.
He continued: “All the boys were quite disappointed with the two previous games before the Scarlets. We just wanted to prove to everyone and ourselves that we are a tight-knit group and we can come out and put a performance like that in, especially with that second-half defending the line and just showing a bit of pride in the jersey.
“I'm really hungry for it now. I think it was probably a good thing for me, getting those minutes off the bench and slowly building because the last 12 to 18 months I've just been struck down with niggles and injuries.
“It's tough mentally. Just before the Six Nations last year I pulled my hammy going into the camp and I was struggling to get back to fitness.
"Then I probably wasn't in the right place when we played Italy, in terms of conditioning and I just tried to push that hammy. Then I came back and played against Glasgow and it went again.
"Mentally it was tough but I got the chance to go back to New Zealand, switch off, get my mind right and just refocus on how I can manage my body a bit better. The hammy is looking good and feeling good.”
In the weekly press conference, Halaholo was unsurprisingly asked about his Wales hopes, particularly as Wayne Pivac’s side kick-off against New Zealand, a game the centre missed due to Covid previously.
While he admits he hopes to regain a place in the Wales squad, he insists his focus is on the Blue and Blacks, playing and performing on a weekly basis.
He continued: "I'd love to be involved. Catching Covid and missing out on that New Zealand game still haunts me. I'd love to put my hand up but I've just got to try and get the starts under my belt, get the minutes going.
"Then I think I can just let the rugby do the talking.”
And there will be no better place to make a statement than on Saturday when numerous Wales internationals will be on show and Halaholo could find himself lining up against another centre, who made a name in New Zealand.
He added: “I think I've played (Sio) Tomkinson once, maybe in the ITM Cup. He’s a strong boy, a good defender, whose played centre and the wing.
“But I haven't seen much of him, I think I had already come over here when he was really hitting a stride over there. So now hopefully if I'm involved this weekend and he's involved in it, we can have a good match up.
“They've got some good boys. I get on well with a lot of the their Welsh boys that I've built some friendships. They are really good players, a good bunch of boys and it's good to see them progressing. In the last few games they’ve put in some good performances. So now I'm looking forward to a battle with the Dragons.”
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