MATTHEW Rees has enjoyed spending the last four years as a member of Wales’ all-Lions front row and is determined to play his part in retaining that title.
At the moment tighthead prop Adam Jones is the only one of the triumvirate in pole position to start when the Lions take on Australia in June’s first Test in Brisbane.
Loosehead Gethin Jen-kins is out of form with Toulon and will struggle to displace Cian Healy while hooker Rees has a battle with a number of rivals for the number 2 jersey.
Ireland’s Rory Best looks to be frontrunner but Rees is chasing hard along with Wales teammate Richard Hibbard, England’s Dylan Hartley and Scotland's Ross Ford. There will be plenty of head-to-head battles over the coming months and Rees believes they all have a fighting chance, despite most stating Ulsterman Best is the man they need to displace.
“I don’t think of it like that,” he said.
“But Rory has been playing well for the last 12 months and is playing for one of the form teams in European rugby.
“He is quite dominant at the set piece and excels himself at the scrums and lineouts while his all round game is pretty good.
“Rory is a threat around the field in terms of jackals, tackling and being a leader. All credit has to go to him for the way he has been playing, he is one of the best hookers in Europe.
“The Lions is always at the back of your mind and it’s important I start putting in the performances to get me there. Hopefully that will start this weekend.
“I just want to make sure my form is up there and that I keep it at a high level for the rest of the campaign.
“There’s no better stage than the Six Nations. If you get the opportunity to start you have to take it and show what you can do.”
But Rees doesn't just face a battle for the Lions’ number 2 jersey – he is in a duel with Richard Hibbard to be in the middle of Wales’ front row.
Today interim head coach Rob Howley will name his starting line-up for the Ireland opener and there is little to choose between Rees and the Ospreys ace, who was labelled as the best hooker in Europe by his regional coach Jon-athan Humphreys, himself a former Wales hooker.
“We’re quite fortunate in Wales with Hibbs playing well for the Ospreys and Ken champing at the bit and in good form for the Scarlets,” said Rees, who has signed a deal with Cardiff Blues for next season.
“We’re lucky to have that strength in depth.
“It’s exactly what you want because you know if you don’t put in the performances someone else will take your place.”