By Steffan Thomas
Most uncapped players on the eve of their first Six Nations would be nervous but WillGriff John is ready to hit the ground running in Test rugby.
It’s fair to say the 27-year-old has taken the long route to the top having been released by the Cardiff Blues at a young age before resurrecting his career in New Zealand with Northland.
The tight-head prop, who started out as a No.8, then figured for Doncaster in the English Championship before impressing with Sale Sharks.
Having earnt rave reviews for his scrummaging, the 20-stones giant believes he can help Wales achieve set-piece dominance in the Six Nations.
“I’m a bit bigger than the other props while I’ll also bring a bit more physicality,” he says.
“The other props in the squad are obviously a bit more experienced. I think I can also bring dominance to the set-piece.
“I’m hoping the coaches see how good a scrummager I am in training. When we played against Bordeaux last season they sent a pretty decent forward pack but we still gave them a bit of a hiding. I was up against Jefferson Poirot and we gave them a hiding at the scrum.
“Hopefully, the coaches have seen how well Sale have done at scrum time against big English and French packs when I’ve been involved. I’m confident I can do well against the better teams.
“I’ve scrummaged against Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler a handful of times and I know what they like to do at scrum time and I did pretty well. I think my work around the park is up there with some of the best.
“Of course, I want to get my hands on the ball and run over some people. Defensively, if someone runs at me I try and cut them in half.”
Despite being among the best scrummagers in the Gallagher Premiership for the past few seasons, John was constantly overlooked by former Wales head coach Warren Gatland.
But with Gatland having headed for pastures new his replacement Wayne Pivac leant heavily on the Welsh exiles programme, with fellow English-based players Nick Tompkins, Will Rowlands and Louis Rees-Zammit joining John in the squad.
Pivac is not only drawn to John’s scrummaging ability but his mental resilience. While most young players would have struggled to bounce back from the set-backs John received earlier in his career the former Wales age grade international refused to give up the fight.
Rejected by the Welsh regions, and then by Gatland, John has used those snubs to build a resilience that matches his imposing physique.
He adds: “Wayne Pivac called me last Friday. We had a quick chat and he told me I was in the squad.
“I was so happy which made it pretty hard to keep the news to myself. I told my other half, Esyllt first, followed by my brother and my mum who were all over the moon.
Samson Lee started, WillGriff John on bench when Wales U20 beat NZ U20 in 2012 pic.twitter.com/1wA2TqWKld
— Russ Petty (@rpetty80) January 15, 2020
“I’m not the type of person to be disrespectful but if I do see the people who let me go all those years ago it would be nice to have them say good on you for taking the long way round and ending up where you have.
“The difficult part was changing to the front-row so late as an 18-year-old. I didn’t have the coaching I needed which is partly why I left, anyway.
“I just hope they appreciate how hard I’ve worked to get where I am.”
Historically, it is always far more difficult to defend your title than winning it first time, but John insists Wales are contenders to defend their Six Nations crown.
He says: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t stand a chance to win it considering there’s still quite a few players from last year’s Grand Slam still there.
“We have some outstanding new coaches and we can’t wait to get started.”