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We have personal pride to play for, maintains battleship star Lewis

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 18, 2013

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SAM Lewis has more reason than most to think twice about putting himself in harm's way on a rugby field.

His older brother, Ben, after all, had to retire from the game at the age of 24 after suffering a neck injury.

Ben had previously spent more than two years battling knee problems.

But, credit where credit's due, Lewis junior makes a determined effort to push such matters to the back of his mind when he takes the field for the Ospreys.

He is another openside who plays on the edge, almost Dan Lydiate-like with his zeal in the tackle, cutting down opponents with a commitment that is eye-opening even by the standards of professional rugby.

At 5ft 10 and 15st 10lb he is a pocket battleship flanker.

But like former England great Neil Back, he makes up for his lack of inches with awareness, brains and courage — the old ABC the best No. 7s seem to be born with.

Involved at Swansea RFC now, Ben is still around to cast an eye over his brother's progress.

"He still gives me advice," said Sam.

"He's coaching Swansea and enjoying it down there. Throughout my career, he's been a big help. He comes to watch my games, which is useful because as a former openside himself he's well placed to talk about my game.

"Seeing what happened to him does drive you. It's hard to think about how depressing it was, how he retired and stuff. But life goes on. It puts it all into perspective. It's a short career, anyway.

"You can't think about the risks of injury when you run onto the pitch.

"It was unfortunate what happened to Ben, but when you take the field you can't afford to think about injuries.

"You just have to be as physical as you can.

"I just want to play as many games as I can for the Ospreys."

Lewis's defence is his big plus point. Against the Dragons on New Year's Eve, the Ospreys' forwards put in 61 hits, with their openside flanker piling up 34 per cent of them. In that game, he was making a tackle, getting up and seconds later making another one.

His old mentor, Richard Webster, would have been proud.

The ex-Swansea coach once said of Lewis: "He is one of the bravest men I have seen on a rugby field."

And the appreciation is mutual, with the Ospreys youngster grateful to have come under Webster's tutelage. "He played a huge role in my development," said Lewis. "He gave me a chance with Swansea when I was an 18-year-old kid and helped a lot."

The challenge for Lewis, down to feature in the Ospreys' final Heineken Cup pool game of the campaign, against Treviso in Italy on Sunday, is to develop his all-round game and push Justin Tipuric for the No. 7 shirt at the Liberty.

Tipuric is the rugby equivalent of a box of fireworks: a fizz here, a sparkle there, punctuated by repeated explosions. Across European rugby, there are few opensides with a bigger repertoire of skills.

Lewis has carried more this season and is himself an impressive performer at the breakdown, but he appreciates the need to keep adding to his game.

"I pride myself on being a good defender," he said.

"But I want to develop my attacking game.

"I've spoken to Steve Tandy and Gruff Rees because it's definitely an area I want to improve on. Hopefully, I can do that in the games coming up.

"We all know how good Justin is. He helps me every day and it's good to have him in front of me so I can push him.

"With him away at the Six Nations, hopefully I can take my chance and get some game-time.

"It's important to take chances when they come along.

"The boys being away at the Six Nations gives the younger players a taste of professional rugby, and we all want to perform."

Treviso may not have won a game in Pool 2 so far but they will present dangerous opposition for the Ospreys at Stadio Monigo.

Leicester needed a late penalty try to prevail 14-13 at the same venue earlier in the campaign, while Toulouse had to come from behind to claim the spoils back in October.

The Ospreys are also mentally and physically battered after investing so much effort into the game with the Tigers last weekend.

But good sides see adversity as a cue to come out fighting.

The Ospreys need to win otherwise they will finish with just two successes from their European campaign and that would cloud how positive the past four months have been.

Injuries will test their strength in depth, but these days the bar is set high for whoever wears the jersey at the region and those picked this weekend will want to play with the same fight the team showed against Leicester last weekend.

"There's personal pride to play for," said Lewis.

"We know how good Treviso are but it's important to finish Europe on a positive note to set us up for the rest of the season."

Tandy could not have put it better himself.

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