Will Welch was once asked to list his pet hates, and replied: “Impatient motorists who beep at me ... aaargh!”
Now, though, the Newcastle Falcons captain acknowledges it is time he put his foot down, time his team accelerated up the Aviva Premiership.
Fortunately, he believes, the Kingston Park outfit are “heading in the right direction”.
The Falcons finished second bottom on their return to the top flight last season.
But with the new campaign – which, for Newcastle, kicks off at Leicester Tigers – just over a fortnight away, Welch has set his sights above and beyond another year spent battling against relegation.
And though reluctant to bring unnecessary pressure to bear on the club by setting specific targets, the 24-year-old insists his side now boasts the “confidence and belief” to mix with rugby’s big guns.
“We’re definitely going in the right direction as a club,” said Welch.
“Obviously, a couple of years ago we dropped back down to the Championship but ever since having come back up, we’ve been heading in the right direction, and building.
“That was our main aim. The main aim last year was probably to keep ourselves up in the league.
“We did that, and now it’s about kicking on. That’s the focus this year, to make sure that we start looking up the table rather than down.
“We don’t have a specific target in mind, I think that would probably just add pressure that you don’t really need.
“Everyone goes out there to win every game, no matter who it’s against. If you do that, you can’t really go too far wrong.
“It’s just about having the confidence and the belief, really, to understand that you can go away and beat big teams.
“If we have that, we’ll be all right.” A host of new signings – including US international Eric Fry, Italian Josh Furno and Samoans Alesana and Anitelea Tuilagi, plus Juan Pablo Socino, Ruki Tipuna, Rob Hawkins and Calum Green – will help.
Under the ongoing stewardship of director of rugby Dean Richards, former defence coach John Wells has been promoted to head coach.
And the Falcons will now be playing their home games on a synthetic, 3G pitch.
That all bodes well for the new season, preparation for which is already well under way.
Newcastle lost narrowly at French club Bayonne in their opening pre-season friendly, and welcome Rotherham Titans to Kingston Park on Saturday, then Edinburgh next Friday. And between time off to recharge the batteries and as good a pre-season as he’s known, Welch says he and his teammates are raring to go.
“We’ve had four weeks off, which is pretty standard for a lot of clubs,” he said.
“The year before was a little bit less because of the Championship ending so late, so we’ve managed to get that little bit longer of a break.
“But you normally come back pretty fresh after four weeks.
“I went to Egypt, and to Las Vegas with a few of the lads. That was a little bit wild, but it was good. Mostly sensible.
“It’s all just to get away from rugby really. You’d always want a little bit longer, I suppose.
“But I quite like my routine, to be honest, so when I don’t have one I’m a bit all over the place. So I don’t really mind coming back in.
“And a lot of the boys do their own training in their spare time anyway, so we’ve all come back in not too bad nick.
“It’s more a mental thing than anything to do with your body, just making sure that you’re refreshed, that you get away from rugby and come back champing at the bit.” Welch added: “Pre-season’s been good this year, really good.
“The conditioning spell has been spot on, everyone’s looking in really good shape, and coupled with the rugby side of it, I think we’ve made a lot of good progress, this summer, in terms of how we want to play.
“We’ve shown that in training and in that first game at Bayonne, where we played some great rugby and scored four tries.
“As long as we keep that going, especially with the pitch that we’ve got now, hopefully it’ll be an exciting season.”
Welch expects the artificial surface to speed up Newcastle’s game, to make matches less attritional, less about kicking.
But the proof, he concedes, is in the pudding, not least with the ‘barometer’ of opening against Leicester, and the Falcons skipper is keen to get started.
“We’re looking forward to the new season, especially after a long pre-season,” he said.
“Towards the end, everyone’s just champing at the bit to get into the thick of it. You do a lot of good stuff during training, conditioning and the like. But you never really know where you are until that opening game.
“We’ve got a couple more warm-up games coming up to try and get a few little things right, and then it’s a big game away at Leicester on the first day of the season.
“It’s important to hit the ground running.
“It’s a tough start but at the same time, it’s exciting. It’ll probably be a good marker of where we are.
“It doesn’t get too much harder than away to Leicester.
“But pre-season’s gone really well. In the first game away at Bayonne, they’d had three run-outs before they played us, so they were pretty well-oiled but we ran them close and only lost by a point.
“So we’ll see these next couple of weeks out, keep improving and fine-tuning and see where we are.
“But at the minute it’s all positive.”