It’s 10 years since Simon Gardiner packed down for his regional debut with Scarlets.

And boy, has he gone full circle since then.

Now in his second stint at the Parc, his career since his first has included Wales age group honours, semi-pro appearances with the likes of Cardiff, Swansea and Carmarthen Quins RFC, and spells with Moseley and Rotherham in England.

When he re-signed for the region at the start of the 2017/18 season many, myself included, were sceptical as to whether the tighthead prop would again be featuring regularly at the top level.

Many, myself included, have been proved wrong.

And sure enough, when I sat down with him at the Scarlets team bonding day at the Pembrokeshire Wake Park last Friday, something seemed different.

The 28-year-old’s scrummaging and ball carrying prowess has long been heralded, his fitness less so. And yet here appeared a leaner, healthier looking Simon Gardiner than the man I’d become accustomed to in years gone by.

This was a notion he was only too happy to confirm.

“I’m heading into this season probably the fittest I’ve ever been – and this is the lightest I’ve been in 10 years.

“I’ve been strict with myself this year and in the off season I had a decision to make. Did I carry on here or step down to play a bit of local rugby?

“I knew I didn’t want to do that. So I decided to train hard for the new coaches coming in and things have changed a hell of a lot.

“Our monitor readings are up now. I don’t think I’d ever covered six kilometres in a session before but now we are averaging about that every session. It’s intense.”

The Haverfordwest man has now been around long enough to know when an opportunity presents itself. And with a number of Scarlets players due to be tied up with the World Cup for the start of the Pro14 season, here comes another one.

“A lot of new players have come in and we all have to take the chance while we can. People like me have got to be trying to cement a place week in week out.

“I’ve played quite a bit in the two seasons I’ve been back but obviously with the new coach (Brad Mooar) here I’ve got to push hard to be the No 1 in my position at the Scarlets.”

It is perhaps no surprise that Gardiner wants to make the most of the next few months. He has just a year left on his current contract and like many others at the region, is relieved to still be around.

That’s not an indictment of him or other players, but rather the revelation that temporarily rocked welsh rugby last season when it emerged Scarlets and Ospreys were set to merge.

I asked about the uncertainty that period must have brought. To his credit, Gardiner didn’t sugar coat his answer.

“I’m not going to lie it was hard,” he admitted.

 “People from within the hierarchy were telling us it was going ahead so boys were panicking a bit. There was talk of a new team forming in North Wales with players no longer needed possibly going up there.

“With three young children and a wife I didn’t want to be leaving Pembrokeshire again so it was a relief when it all fell apart. I think everyone was glad.”

That chapter is now closed, well temporarily at least, and it’s the 2019/20 campaign that will consume Gardiner’s revamped focus.

So much so, that following the rest of the squad into Tenby for further team bonding that evening was seemingly off the cards.

“I’ll be out the way before it gets messy,” he said, smiling wryly.

“A night out that far from home is not for me anymore.”

What the future brings for Gardiner after this campaign when his current deal expires remains to be seen. But refreshingly, it’s a campaign he seems determined to make the most of.

And good luck to him.

At the Pembrokeshire County Show this month, a number of Scarlets will be visiting on Wednesday, August 14th, to launch the region's new away kit for the 2019/20 Pro14 season.