Tomos Williams grew up wishing he was Kobe Bryant or Shaq O’Neal but now wants to be the new Mike Phillips.
Wales have not had an undisputed, unchallenged, first-name-on the-team-sheet scrum-half since the days of Phillips, the almost original Iron Mike.
But Williams – who grew up favouring basketball over rugby and idolised the top American stars – has big plans ahead, starting with Friday night in Paris, and Warren Gatland might just share them.
The Treorchy-born No.9 is poised to start Wales’ Six Nations opener against France after the Scarlets’ Gareth Davies suffered a quad injury.
Williams has won six caps for Gatland’s side but grew up playing with a hoop and a basket as his main sport. Now he is starring with the oval ball and produced an outrageous off-load to set up a try for Cardiff Blues team-mate Owen Lane against Lyon this month.
The 24-year-old has been the form No 9 in Wales this season and has all the skills needed to thrive against a giant France side.
“There are one or two youngsters who could cause a change in the starting positions if they fulfil their potential,” said Wales head coach Gatland.
“They have to realise they are capable of being number one. I was asked what youngster could start for Wales in the tournament and I mentioned Tomos.
“I don’t think Gareth is going to be fit for the first game and Tomas is a young player who is pretty talented, pretty competitive, and combative as well.
“He doesn’t back down to anything. I think he’s got the potential to keep improving and developing. He could be something pretty special.”
Wales open the 2019 Six Nations against France with Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams all first-choice stars battling injury.
Davies and Halfpenny (concussion) are definitely out while Saracens ace Williams has a broken finger. One positive for Gatland is No 8 Ross Moriarty who will be fit after a head knock.
Wales have won their last nine matches and are ranked third in the world ahead of what will be their last Six Nations under Gatland’s guidance.
In the likes of Williams, Worcester wing Josh Adams and Ospreys lock Adam Beard, the New Zealander has some fine young talent at his disposal.
“I definitely haven’t got a starting 15 in my head, but I am aware there is some real competition in the squad and we’re in a good place mentally preparing for the World Cup,” Gatland said.
“We used the autumn as much more of a conditioning phase looking to prepare for the Six Nations and it means the players are in a good place. I’m always hopeful.
“We’ve probably got more niggles and injuries than we would have liked when we picked our squad and on our first day of training we had 29 out of 39 training.
“Those numbers will improve. What we’ve created over the last 12 months has been an expectation and within the squad that players are driving themselves and driving each other to some great standards. I couldn’t be happier as a coach about where we are and how well we’ve been building.
“Last year we finished second in this competition. This year is as competitive as ever.”
Williams is poised for what will be the biggest test of his short international career to date in France.
But the high-tempo game he brings could suit Wales down to the ground as Gatland’s men look to take revenge on Les Bleus for their 2017 defeat.
Wales’ last trip to Paris saw them beaten in a controversial 100-minute match in which wing George North claimed he was bitten by a French player.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “We are well aware we need to get our foot in the door against this French side. They will be buoyed by the type of game they played towards the end of 2018.
“It will be one of the toughest games we’ll play because it’s away from home. To win would be a quality start.”