Swinton, Valetini eyeing each other off ahead of blockbuster opener

Lachie Swinton is ready for fireworks when the NSW Waratahs enforcer makes his long-awaited return in Friday night's Super Rugby Pacific season opener against the Brumbies in Sydney.Swinton hasn't played a competitive match since suffering a shoulder nerve injury in the Waratahs' corresponding round-one win over the Fijian Drua last year.When the injury didn't heal naturally, as he'd hoped, the 26-year-old needed surgery that set him back a further six months.But from "kicking stones" and wondering if he'd ever return, the abrasive flanker is promising to produce his usual heavy combat when the Waratahs also play at Allianz Stadium for the first time in five years."Obviously it was a long journey for me," Swinton said on Thursday."To be able to put that jersey back on and do my thing again is something I've been striving for a while now."It's something I don't take lightly and I want to do the boys proud."After an intense 11-month recovery period, Swinton is convinced his shoulder will be up to the rigours of Super Rugby and he's relishing a heavyweight battle in particular with Brumbies hardman Rob Valetini."It's going to be a good contest. I know he'll be rolling that corner and I'll be right there," Swinton said."It's taken a while to get that confidence back. I've got a great medical team behind me and we've done an integration of contact and that's given me full confidence."I've been using my shoulder like old times for months now so I have no doubts. I'm not even thinking about it when I'm out there. It's completely fine."As it will need to be."He's definitely leading their forward pack with his aggression but he's been out for a year," Valetini said of his former Wallabies teammate."I'm just happy to see him back on the field tomorrow night. No doubt he and I will go at it, definitely."We have like an agreement to go at each other when we verse each other. We always have good battles. I'm pretty fired up."The entire back-row duel between Valetini, Rory Scott and Pete Samu against Swinton, Michael Hooper and Charlie Gamble looms as a ripper and carries extra importance with new Wallabies coach Eddie Jones sure to be monitoring with keen interest."That's going to be a classic battle," Valetini said after formally being presented with his 2022 Australian Super Rugby player-of-the-year award.A far cry from last year when they were coming off a depressing winless campaign, the Waratahs enter 2023 harbouring title dreams.But skipper Jake Gordon says last season's unexpected charge to the finals means nothing now, as the Tahs chase a first win over the Brumbies since 2018."Last year was a good year for us, not great," Gordon said."We're looking to get better. What you saw in the trials wasn't polished enough."Click Here: Highlanders rugby store

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