Ben Youngs says he is “refreshed and energised” for the start of Leicester Tigers’ Premiership defence after last season’s “emotional rollercoaster”.
The scrum-half, 33, was then rested for England’s summer tour of Australia.
“For the first time in a long time I’ve actually got no external weight of the world on my shoulders,” he said.
“When you have had a big season and also a rollercoaster in terms of emotions outside of rugby, sometimes you need that time away, that reflection, to regroup and I was able to do that.
“This year, for the first time in a good few years, my personal life is good, I’ve got nothing going on there and I can fully focus on what I love doing, which is playing rugby.”
‘Title win a bit of a blur’
Youngs said delivering an 11th English title for the Tigers – a side that only avoided the drop two years earlier after Sarries were relegated for salary cap breaches – was also about ensuring his brother Tom had “closure on his career”.
Tom retired from rugby union just weeks before Tiffany passed away.
“To have that moment was something the team wanted to give him,” Youngs said.
“It was emotional, of course, for where we had been as a club to where we were in that moment and the two weeks that had been.
“It was a bit of a blur because of the emotional rollercoaster it had been for the last 11 months of what we had gone through.”
Youngs, England’s most capped player with 117 appearances, said being afforded a rare summer break without any international duties has put him in “a better space” before the new season, which starts against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday.
“For me now it’s easy for me to say ‘yes, I did need it’,” Youngs said of the time off in pre-season.
“When you are away [on international duty] and you go and you go, you never have a chance to do that. You are just going because you don’t know any different.
“Now that I’ve had it, I look at myself and I think ‘am I in better physical shape than I was last year? Yeah, I am. Mentally, am I in better shape than I was last year? Yeah, I am.
“I’ve not had this kind of freedom to really narrow in on what I’m trying to do for a long, long time. Now I’ve got it, I want to make the most out of it.
“For me, it’s refreshing. I suppose I’m feeling energised and excited and all the right things.”
The benefits for Youngs spending an entire pre-season with Tigers are clear to Leicester boss Steve Borthwick.
“Having a block of recovery and then a block of training that is really specific to him and what he needs will make him an even better player this season than he was last season,” Borthwick said.
“And he was a pretty good player already. He looks like he’s grown as a player and he’s as fit as I’ve ever seen him.”