Llanelli Star - - SCARLETS - SI­MON THOMAS Rugby writer si­[email protected]­line.co.uk

TOM James says “the old TJ is back” and he is ready to prove peo­ple wrong after sign­ing a two-year deal with the Scar­lets.

The Wales in­ter­na­tional winger took an ex­tended break from the game in 2018 while he was un­der­go­ing treat­ment for de­pres­sion.

He then parted com­pany with Cardiff Blues at the end of last sea­son, leaving him look­ing for a new club.

Now, hav­ing im­pressed the Scar­lets with his fit­ness test­ing, he is ready to start a fresh chap­ter in his ca­reer.

James opened up about his 10-year bat­tle with crip­pling de­pres­sion in May, an in­ter­view that pro­voked a huge re­sponse.

“I had an un­be­liev­able re­ac­tion, prob­a­bly the best I have had in rugby,” said the 32-year-old.

“Peo­ple were writ­ing to me say­ing they were hop­ing I wasn’t go­ing to fin­ish. That was a good plus.”

James re­turned to action last sea­son, uniquely play­ing for Merthyr, Pon­typridd and Cardiff in the Welsh Premier­ship.

“At the end of the sea­son, I was champ­ing at the bit for the op­por­tu­nity with the Blues,” he said. “I felt I still had plenty to offer pro­fes­sional rugby.

“Their wingers were doing well and they kept the same squad, so the op­por­tu­nity didn’t come.

“But when I was play­ing in the Premier­ship I just felt I was back to my best.

“I have been train­ing non-stop since I left the Blues in May and wait­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to come.

“I’ve been down the sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr on Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Satur­day.

“The rea­son I kept on train­ing was be­cause I knew, if the op­por­tu­nity came, I would be fly­ing straight­away.

“I have worked hard, I feel in good shape and the hunger is there again after a tough cou­ple of years.

“Since May I’ve been de­ter­mined to get a pro­fes­sional con­tract.

“Fair dos to my agent, Rob Ap­p­le­yard, he’s done a crack­ing job and ob­vi­ously got me a deal with the Scar­lets.

“I am ab­so­lutely de­lighted to have se­cured this move.”

James, who won 12 caps be­tween 2007 and 2016, starts with the West Wales re­gion next Mon­day and is strain­ing at the leash.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he said. “I’ve got loads to offer. “Some peo­ple might think my best days are be­hind me, but ob­vi­ously the Scar­lets don’t think so.

“They saw my games at the end of the sea­son and thought I was get­ting back to my best.

“They wouldn’t have given me two years if they didn’t think I was up to the job.

“I am a strong-minded per­son and come the start of the sea­son I will prove a few peo­ple wrong.

“I am grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity. “The way I am in my­self, I just feel like I am a dif­fer­ent per­son again.

“I just can’t wait to go down there and show them the old TJ is back.

“Hope­fully I can prove a few doubters wrong.

“You are go­ing to have some fans out there think­ing ‘Why have we signed him?’.

“But I know for a fact, when I look in the mirror, I will prove a few peo­ple wrong.”

Look­ing ahead to his new start, he said: “This is an ex­cit­ing move for me, es­pe­cially with the way the Scar­lets play the game.

“They have got a crack­ing squad on paper and they’ve been doing re­ally well over the last few years.

“They have got re­ally good young­sters com­ing through. Hope­fully I can help them be­come bet­ter play­ers as well.”

James played 163 games for the Blues in two spells that spanned 11 sea­sons, scor­ing a record 60 tries, ei­ther side of spend­ing two years with Ex­eter.

At the Scar­lets, he will offer con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence as well as a proven preda­tory threat.

With Leigh Half­penny set to be away at the World Cup in Ja­pan, St­eff Evans also in the train­ing squad and Johnny McNi­choll el­i­gi­ble for Wales on res­i­dency grounds for the Six Na­tions, James will pro­vide in­valu­able cover within the back three.

And lis­ten­ing to him talk, he will clearly be out to stake a real claim for a start­ing spot in the first-choice side.

As he says, TJ is back.

Tom James in action for Wales against the Chiefs in 2016.

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