“Probably the best way to describe these last couple of months is that it’s been a massive rollercoaster ride.”
Those were the words of Cardiff Blues prop Dillon Lewis, as he sat back to reflect on Wales’ Grand Slam heroics in the Guinness Six Nations.
Less than two years ago the youngster was a surprise inclusion in Wales’ touring party to the Pacific Islands, and the Church Village-born star hasn’t looked back since.
With 12 caps to his name, Lewis is yet to end up on the losing side on the international stage and has firmly cemented himself in Warren Gatland’s plans, with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner.
The tight-head made his Championship debut against Italy in round two, and went on to feature in the remaining three games as a replacement, where he gained a reputation for creating a strong impact from the bench.
The 23-year-old admits the campaign surpassed his personal expectations and insists the games have created a lifetime of unforgettable memories.
“I went into the Six Nations campaign with a personal goal of playing in one game, because I’d never featured in the Championship before, and I knew I had huge competition with the likes of Samson [Lee], Franny [Tomas Francis] and Leon [Brown],” said Lewis.
“But to come out on the other end with four appearances and a Grand Slam was crazy, to say the least.
“The England game is definitely one to remember for myself, and it’s always good to come up against my mate, Ellis Genge, in the scrums.
“However, I don’t ever want to re-live the nerves I had ahead of that game, especially during the morning build-up. But it was a special night and the atmosphere in that stadium was amazing.
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché but when you’re out on the pitch you do try to zone out and concentrate on the game at hand.
“However, that becomes a bit harder when you’ve got more than 70,000 people screaming in your face!
“But those atmospheres make those occasions more special, and the anthem always lifts everyone and it becomes a pretty different place to be.”
The Wales coaching team emphasised the importance of the bench throughout the campaign, as they seeked to gain an upper hand in the latter stages of each match and finish strongly.
This became evident as Wales sealed memorable and dramatic late victories against the likes of France and England.
Lewis believes the modern game has increased the importance of the entire squad and believes the atmosphere throughout the camp had a big influence in the historic feat.
The prop said: “Everyone wants to start, there’s no doubt about that, but I knew that they were looking for me to provide impact from the bench and they had a big emphasis on that throughout the squad.
“You’ll always crave that starting jersey, but you weigh up the pros and cons and realise that you’re playing in the Six Nations, and I would’ve bitten someone’s hand off had they offered me the outcome before the Championship.
“The role of the bench and the impact they can create in the latter stages of a game is becoming more and more important in the modern game and the coaches certainly have identified that.
“I think the togetherness within the squad was a huge credit to some of the leaders we had around the camp. The likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Foxy [Jonathan Davies] made sure there weren’t any cliques and everyone were really comfortable around each other.
“There was a really good atmosphere within the squad throughout the campaign, and as always it was good to have a few jokers around the place.
“It’s one of those squads where everyone got on and everyone were there for the right reasons.
“If boys weren’t selected, you knew they were going to come hard at you in training, which is exactly what you want in those scenarios because it’s a competitive environment. Each person there were there to work hard for the group.
“We had a really good culture in there and want to continue that going forward.
“There were obviously a few boys there from this region, and boys who have come through this region in the past as well, and you can’t take for granted how special it is to play alongside your mates on the international stage.”
Lewis returned to Cardiff Blues duties with his home region battling out for a top-three finish in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14, and played a part from the bench in last week’s bonus point win over Scarlets.
Off-the-field, the former Coleg y Cymoedd student is keeping himself busy by managing his own coffee company - Fat Dragon Coffee - alongside fellow front row, Brad Thyer.
Having had a first taste of life on Europe’s top table this season, the Welsh international insists he is hungry for more, as they look to pip Connacht and Ospreys to Heineken Champions Cup qualification.
“I want to play for the region as much as I can for the rest of the season, because we’ve got a really exciting run-in and a lot to play for with trying to push our place for the play-offs,” said the academy product.
“It’s good to be able to compete right until the very end, and that’s something we had a taste for after last season, where we were chasing silverware. It makes the whole building more competitive and enjoyable.
“This season was my first experience of playing the Heineken Champions Cup and you do want to play against the best.
“Those occasions are bigger and better and you don’t quite realise that until you get an opportunity to play in it. Everyone is striving to get back into the top competition next year.”