Max Size Midfield For Wales As Llewellyn And George North Bid To Run Over England

CARDIFF, WALES - AUGUST 04: Max Llewellyn looks on during the Wales Captain's Run ahead of the Summer International match between Wales and England at the Principality Stadium on August 04, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Max Size Midfield For Wales As Llewellyn And George North Bid To Run Over England

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By David Parsons

It’s a well known fact that rugby players are getting bigger, but when centres can look their fathers in the eye – including those who played internationally in the second row – then you know the game is heading towards the clouds.

Gareth Llewellyn was 6ft 6in when he stood tall in the Wales line-out throughout the Nineties.

His son Max – who will make his debut against England on Saturday – is just an inch shorter and will be playing in the backs.

Big has always been beautiful in professional rugby but Warren Gatland’s Wales seem to be taking things to extremes.

Gatland used Jamie Roberts, all 6ft 5in and 18st of him, as a bit of a battering ram for much of his first stint in charge from 2008-2019.

And, if it worked then, bringing in three Grand Slams, another Six Nations title and two World Cup semi-finals, then why not stick to the plan?

When England arrive at the Principality Stadium, they will find two modern-day giants waiting to attack them in the Welsh midfield – with another one waiting in the wings on the replacements’ bench.

The rugby world has become used to seeing George North charge at defences, and make huge holes with his 6ft 4in, 17st 2lbs frame. His 40 tries bear witness to his effectiveness both on the wing and at centre.

He will be the anchor figure in the Welsh back line on Saturday evening, when he hopes to lay down a marker to go to a fourth World Cup; alongside him will be one of three new caps in the experimental Welsh side, Max Llewellyn.

North, with his 113 caps, may be the senior partner, but he will be an inch smaller than Llewellyn. On the bench will be another 6ft 5in midfield maestro in the twice-capped Mason Grady.

“He may be 6ft 5in, but he’s not another Jamie Roberts in the crash, bang, wallop mold,” says Llewellyn’s father, the 92-time capped former second row Gareth.

“He’s got quick feet, he’s fast and he can pass as well. He may be big, but he’s still an inch shorter than his father!

“I guess in my day he would have been a second row like me and my brother Glyn. Nowadays you often find some of the biggest players out in the back line.”

Both Gareth and Glyn, who won nine caps, were 6ft 6in tall. Gareth’s younger son, Alfie, is another six-footer who plays more conventionally in the back row for Bridgend in the Welsh Premiership.

“I’ve got to know Max in the last few months, and it’s gone really well,” says North. “He thoroughly deserves his place after his performances for Cardiff last season.

“He’s obviously still young in the game but I’ve been really impressed physically by him and his rugby brain as well. He’s trained really well throughout this pre-season period.

“We’ve got a really good group of centres now across the whole squad. It’s great for Max to get his opportunity and I’m sure he’ll do well.

“I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s stepped up to international rugby. Across the board, from the front row to 15, you just look at the change in the athletes and the physicality of the game’s demands since I first started.

“The game has really evolved, conditioning has evolved, so relatively we are at a different level again. To play the game now you have to keep up with it, and the game is moving so fast.

“I was a trendsetter maybe, rather than a freak when I arrived on the scene. We have a good combination between the younger boys coming through and a few of us older guys.

“Mason had a couple of run-outs in the Six Nations and is an amazing player. You have got Johnny Williams back in the mix now after he has been injured, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins – guys of every shape and size who are just pushing everything on.”

North is the first to concede that the new blood introduced into the squad by Gatland has increased competition for places and freshened things up after a poor 18 months for Wales. Even he feels under pressure.

The past 12 weeks have been spent at gruelling training camps in Cardiff, Switzerland and Turkey and North believes Gatland once again has his finger back on the pulse of the group.

He is excited at the possibilities for the upcoming World Cup, and so are the players.

“After the Six Nations, we all took it very personally, as we do, because it’s our fingerprints on it. And Gats himself took it on him to make it right,” adds North.

“From day dot he’s been back to it and he’s found his voice, for sure. He’s been back playing his normal mind-games, he has been around the boys geeing them up, he has been poking the bear as well.

“He knows exactly what he wants now, and he has instilled it within his coaches, and then from them into us.

“Your first game of pre-season is always tough trying to get your timings right, but we need these games to really be fine for the World Cup. From our point of view there have been no grey areas, we know exactly where we are in attack and defence.

“I know from Six Nations to now it is much different. Gats has had the ability to put his stamp on it, more than he did in the Six Nations. Saturday will be a much different team compared to the Six Nations.”

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