Six Nations 2017: Wales lock Jake Ball aims to get over injury heartbreak
Wales lock Jake Ball says he wants to put his stamp on a second-row shirt after the "heartbreak" of the 2016 autumn series.
Ball made just one replacement appearance after a rib injury picked up in October restricted his chances.
"I'm really excited, there's been a lot of hard work gone in and some disappointments along the way" he said.
The 19 stone seven Scarlets forward will partner Alun Wyn Jones at lock after Luke Charteris was ruled out.
The hand injury suffered by Bath's Charteris and Bradley Davies' long-standing knee problem meant that Ball was the obvious choice to step in for the Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Newport Gwent Dragons forward Cory Hill sits on the bench ahead of uncapped Osprey Rory Thornton.
The Wales camp are hopeful that Charteris will be available to face England six days later.
Ball's only international start since the 2015 World Cup was in the friendly against England in May 2016.
"In the Six Nations last year, I came in with an MCL (knee ligament injury), then in the autumn with my ribs as well, it's been a bit of a frustrating time for me and I hadn't hit the form I wanted to over the last year and a half" Ball told BBC Wales Sport.
"I'm back playing a lot of rugby and I'm very excited to be playing [in Rome], there's always been a good log of second rows in the Wales set-up and it's up to me to put my stamp on the shirt."
Autumn on the sidelines
Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac described Ball as a "man on a mission" with some fine displays over the Christmas and New Year period.
That came after an awkward experience in November, when he made a brief replacement appearance against Japan but missed out to Charteris, Jones and Hill against South Africa.
"Being [in the Wales camp] and watching the boys playing and not being involved is heartbreaking," he said.
"You always want to be here and involved in some way, sometimes it even drives you a bit more seeing boys coming in and doing well."
New freedom for Italy
Ball, who wins his 22nd cap in Rome, says Italy could be free to play more open rugby, conditions permitting, under new coach Conor O'Shea.
"Conor O'Shea has brought something a bit different, he's freshened things up and they'll be a revived team," he added.
"He was saying they've got the freedom to go out there and play, and teams like that are always dangerous."
Ball and Jones will be up against Treviso's Marco Fuser and his Scottish-born partner George Biagi, now with Zebre.