The British and Irish Lions are now just over a week away from the start of their much anticipated test series against current World Champions South Africa. The Welsh contingent all started off at a club near you, as Tom Prosser has been finding out.
Warren Gatland’s men are currently on tour in South Africa with a squad that features many household names from Welsh rugby.
But roaring Lions start out as small cubs and it’s always important to acknowledge the role grass roots clubs have played in the careers of stars such as Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit and Ken Owens.
From Bridgend Athletic to Gorseinon and all points beyond, clubs from all over the country have played a part in producing Lions players for this tour and others.
There will also be young players watching this current tour from home who could be Lions of the future – including Welsh girls who could feature in the planned first women’s Lions tour.
We have taken a closer look at how some of the current squad got into the game and have spoken to some of the coaches who played a part in their development.
Josh Navidi (Bridgend Athletic)
“He was as strong as an ox,” says Lee Davies, coach at Bridgend Athletic, about Josh Navidi, the Cardiff Blues star who was a late call up to the tour.
Navidi joined the Athletic at the early age of seven and played right up until Under 16 level before moving to New Zealand to continue his education.
“He had a tremendous attitude, was very attentive and physically very strong,” adds Davies, who is the son of the late Lyn Davies who earned three caps for Wales as a wing in the mid-1960’s.
“Josh did whatever he was asked to, without question.
“Nobody moved him when he was over the ball.”
Navidi was part of one of the most successful Bridgend Athletic junior teams of all time.
“The team was hardly beaten, winning many competitions, including the prestigious Richmond tournament on a regular basis,” says Davies.
The club are keen to point out how much of an inspiration it is for their current junior players to see the likes of Navidi playing at the highest level.
Dean Brown, chairman of Bridgend Athletic junior rugby, says: “It is an inspiration when our current young players return to the clubhouse following games, to be informed that the likes Josh Navidi, Rhys Webb, and Lee Byrne all started their rugby careers, like themselves, at the Athletic.
“It is great for grassroots rugby to see a pathway exists from clubs like us to the pinnacle of Welsh and British rugby.”
Navidi has since gone on to have a strong career in the game, with 28 caps to his name so far, and has become a key player for both the Blues and Wales.
Adam Beard (Aberavon)
Adam Beard is a tall, athletic and powerful second row who was Lions coach Warren Gatland’s first choice replacement when his captain Alun Wyn Jones was injured in the match against Japan.
The 6ft 8in, 25-year-old Beard who started off at Birchgrove learned his trade playing in the Welsh Premiership with Aberavon before going on to the Ospreys.
His former Aberavon coach Jason Hyatt recalls the hard work and dedication to improve Beard showed from an early age.
“I’m delighted to see Adam earn his Lions call up. It’s a great reward for all his hard work and current form,” says Hyatt.
“Adam made an instant impact at Aberavon, not only on the field but off it, too. His work rate and enthusiasm was infectious.”
Hyatt is not surprised by Beard’s rise since progressing from Aberavon and says he possess lots of crucial rugby qualities.
“It was obvious from the start that Adam was destined to play rugby at the very highest standard. During his time with us he was a very talented athlete and most importantly he had a great attitude.
“Adam has many strengths – his line-out work in both attack and defence is excellent, he is very physical and this adds tremendously to the scrum.
“But in my opinion, Adam’s main strength is his character, which he formed as a young boy with us.
“He has an outstanding work rate and he knows how to bring out the best from his team-mates.
“Adam is an outstanding role model for all the young players that represent Aberavon and is a great example of what is achievable if you’er prepared to put in the work.”
Hyatt is looking forward to the return of Welsh Premiership rugby, where clubs such as Aberavon can continue their role if producing the Wales and Lions stars of the future.
The Wizards have not played for over a year during the pandemic, but Hyatt says: “The Welsh Premiership continues to play a vital role in the development of young players.
“Apart from offering quality game time, it brings an opportunity for young players to test themselves against quality teams and opponents.
“The Premiership also allows the players to apply their skills in extremely competitive situations and it creates a challenging and competitive team culture.
“The Premiership is an outstanding environment to practice this.”
Below is a full of list of the current Welsh Lions players and their grassroots clubs:
Josh Adams– Hendy, Llanelli
Adam Beard– Aberavon, Birchgrove
Dan Biggar– Gorseinon, Swansea
Gareth Davies– Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthen Quins, Llanelli
Taulupe Faletau– Ebbw Vale, New Panteg, Cross Keys, Newport
Wyn Jones– Llandovery
Josh Navidi– Bridgend Athletic
Ken Owens– Carmarthen Athletic
Louis Rees-Zammit– Llandaff, Rumney
Justin Tipuric– Trebanos, Aberavon
Liam Williams– Waunarlwydd, Llanelli
Alun Wyn Jones– Bonymaen