CORNWALL star Matt Shepherd is hoping a pre-planned once-in-a-lifetime holiday will not hamper his Plymouth Albion chances too much.
Shepherd will miss all of Albion’s warm-up matches as he will be in Thailand with his girlfriend.
The pair booked the 30-day dream trip last December before Shepherd had any idea he would be joining Albion after just one season at Launceston.
The 25-year-old former St Austell player knows his absence from the pre-season games will give his scrum-half rivals Cameron Setter and Jack Maunder a chance to stake their claim to wear the number nine shirt in the league-opener against Richmond on September 5.
However, Shepherd is going to be keeping fit while away and then when he returns will be going all-out to try and secure a place in the team.
“Me and the girlfriend had the holiday booked just before Christmas,” said Shepherd, whose 2014/15 season lasted until June after helping Cornwall to Twickenham glory and then earning an England Counties call-up.
“As we were both teaching at the time we just said we would go away for the whole summer, but then this (joining Albion) came up.
“I’m just happy that Graham (Dawe) and the board have let me go.
“I am away for a long time but I am going to take some runners over and still condition myself.
“It’s a hot place Thailand, so it will be a different kind of training. Even if it is just for 20 minutes, you are going to be working different things.”
But will his girlfriend be happy with him training on their dream holiday?
“I made a pact,” he laughed. “It will only be 20-30 minutes a day and I will have a few days off obviously because we’ve got to travel and enjoy what we have paid to do. But she understands and she’s happy.”
Shepherd added: “I am going to miss the pre-season matches. I really wanted to put my face in the mix for the first game of the season.
“Hopefully, though, I will have the days when I get back to impress and I won’t get judged too much for going away.
“Hopefully, I will be able to do my best to get into the starting line-up or the bench.
“I’m not going to wish for too much, because sometimes if you set your sights too high you get let down, but I’m ready for the challenge ahead.”
Dawe does know what Shepherd can do having coached him with Cornwall. The talented back has also been training with Albion for the past five weeks.
“It’s been brilliant,” said Shepherd, who will train full-time when he gets back having given up his job at a school in St Austell. “It been a good experience so far.”
He added: “I was a full-time behavioural support worker at one of the local schools in St Austell.
“It was a big commitment to say I’m going to give that a rest and come here. But I felt I had to take this stepping stone.
“And from what I’ve seen and from the chats I’ve had with Graham, I think it’s going to be a very exciting year.
“I’m really looking forward to pulling on the shirt and getting out at Brickfields and seeing what we can do.”
Shepherd believes Setter and Exeter Chiefs youngster Maunder will push him hard for the number nine shirt.
“There is a lot of competition, but that makes you work a little bit harder,” he said. “I think having Cam and Jack here, is pushing me that little bit more.
“The challenge is here and I’m ready for it.”
He added: “There are three of us but what’s good is that we can play a variety of positions.
“I can play scrum-half, full-back and wing, so hopefully I will get a little look in at some point.”
Albion’s director of rugby Dawe may be keen to keep expectation levels down after having to totally rebuild the team following their relegation and financial problems, but Shepherd says he has come to Albion to try and get them promoted back to the Championship.
“You have to put pressure on yourself and you have to set targets,” said Shepherd.
“There are little targets that people have set and personal targets. I would like Plymouth to get promoted next year.”
DID YOU KNOW…
Matt Shepherd has a St Austell RFC club badge tattooed on the top of his right thigh.
He said: “In my first season as captain of St Austell two years ago, all the boys said they would get a tattoo if I got one. So, me being me, I went and got one first and only one other or maybe two got one.
“It’s on my right leg and it will always be there, but it was my starting club. It was their 50th anniversary and so I decided to get it. The girlfriend isn’t very happy with it.”
So if he does help Albion get promoted will he get their club crest tattooed on his other leg?
“That’s what all the boys say,” he said. “We’ll see!”