Cai Devine is ready to follow Sam Cross from obscurity to Test stardom for Wales – starting with the Rugby World Cup Sevens this weekend.
Devine is a Singapore-born Durham University student who will be part of the Wales squad competing in San Francisco and aiming to emulate the Welsh world champions of 2009.
But Sevens success could also bring further personal opportunity as it did for Cross who went on to win an Olympic silver medal in Brazil in 2016, before that proved a springboard to a shock Wales cap in the 15-a-side game last year.
Devine, 20, may not be one of the first names that comes to mind when you think about the Wales Sevens team, but in very much the same way Cross came from almost nowhere, Devine is a man on a mission.
A set-piece specialist, particularly at re-starts, he has become an integral part of the Welsh team over the past World Series and Rugby Europe campaigns. Now comes his biggest test of all.
“It is pretty surreal and the World Cup is going to be very exciting. I got a phone call from Richie Pugh a couple of months into my time at Durham and he invited me to come down and train with the World Series boys,” said Devine, who stands 6ft 5in tall and weighs in at 98kg.
“I came down nervous as hell, but it was an amazing experience. It was on and off for a few months and I was involved in a few sessions before they went away to play, but I kept on being invited back.
“Then, last summer, I was selected for the Rugby Europe tournament and I’ve been with the team ever since. My first World Series event was in Dubai – it was crazy.
“You just can’t compare going from schoolboy and university rugby to playing in the World Series. Everything is just another level – the analysis, the skill, the speed, the physicality. You find yourself going up against phenomenal rugby players and I learned so much, very, very quickly.
“I took the last year as a big learning experience. I got eight tournaments under my belt this year and I feel I am growing and getting better. I feel a part of it all now.”
Despite being raised almost 7,000 miles away from the Welsh capital, Devine had a rugby ball in his hands from an early age thanks to his father, Cardiff-born Rob.
His whole family has been involved in rugby and he won’t be the first to experience playing at a World Cup.
Devine’s father set-up the Touch Royals in Singapore and played for Singapore (Men’s 40’s) at the 2015 Touch World Cup. Mum, Claire, managed the Singapore Mixed 30’s team at the 2015 World Cup and is part of the Singapore Women’s Under-20’s coaching team for this year’s Youth Touch World Cup. Younger sister, Tian, is in the Singapore Under-18 team for the same tournament.
“Having grown up in Singapore all we really played was sevens rugby and with Hong Kong on our doorstep, I was brought up watching the Hong Kong Sevens,” said Devine, seen here in try-scoring action at the famous tournament this year.
“To now be playing with and against guys I grew up watching and admiring is awesome. The physicality and speed with which teams like Fiji and Australia play has been a real eye-opener.
“My dad moved to Singapore before I was born and I played there from the age of five. All the while I was telling people I was Welsh and that’s where my home is.
“At 16, I told my parents I wanted to move over here. I wanted to take rugby as seriously as I could and give it a go. I managed to get a scholarship to Llandovery College.”
After becoming head boy at Llandovery, Devine moved to Durham where he is currently coming to the end of his second year following a degree in business management. The university have allowed him to push his end-of-year exams back to August to ensure he can play in San Francisco this week.
If Wales can come through an opening round test against Zimbabwe to set up some mouth-watering clashes with world-class opposition, then those exams next month are going to be a breeze.
S4C will be showing highlights of the Rugby World Cup Sevens this Saturday (19:30), Sunday (19:30) and Monday (18:30).