A long year of rugby that started back in June 2018 with pre-season at Cardiff Blues ostensibly came to an end a fortnight ago at London Sevens, but the 21-year-old from the Rhondda was delighted to be back representing his country on the world stage.
“My first sevens cap was in Dubai in December 2017, which seems a while ago now,” says Lewis, who had featured for Wales U20 earlier that year. “Coming in was always going to be tough, but I did four tournaments on the bounce, then had more than a year off sevens.”
That stint already under his belt, he felt more assured when the call came from head coach Richie Pugh to rejoin the squad back in February as they prepared for Las Vegas. “You know what’s coming and get into the groove a bit quicker – your body gets used to the training and the aching – but a big test is your reading of the sevens game, and I do feel over the course of the last six tournaments that mine has improved.”
Running out at the Sevens Stadium in Dubai for his debut all that time ago, Lewis knew his lack of experience of the game was more than compensated for by senior players like Adam Thomas and Luke Morgan. “Adam was a big part of the squad, an old head you could always go to for advice,” Lewis reflects.
However, he adds that Wales are lucky to still have players such as Luke Treharne and Owen Jenkins to help steer the ship – steady hands that were needed in 2018/19 as they found themselves navigating the choppy waters of a relegation battle. “Afon Bagshaw has been a really good leader in the team as well. There have been a lot of youngsters coming through, and someone like Ben Cambriani is in the same shoes I was in back in 2017. If I can help them in the same way I was helped when I was new to the squad, then that’s great.”
With core status finally secured for next season’s World Series, Lewis wants to be part of a resurgent Wales team. Released from his regional contract in December, and frustrated by a lack of opportunities elsewhere, the centre leapt at the chance to immerse himself back in sevens.
VIDEO: Click here to watch Cameron Lewis score a bruising try against Japan in Vancouver.
“I know so many boys in the same position as I was [being out of contract], and it’s pretty savage: you either stay positive and keep going, or you go the other way. In my case, I love playing rugby. It’s what I want to do, so I really appreciate Pughie giving me another chance with sevens.
“Next season will be a big year for me, and a massive one for Wales Sevens. We’ve got a good challenge to stay up because it will be ultra competitive once again, but it’s all about looking ahead and building a strong squad. We’ve got a great coach in Pughie, who’s a really good guy and always approachable – someone you can have a good conversation with about anything.”
It’s a continuation of the good relationship Lewis enjoyed with former head coach Gareth ‘Babs’ Williams, who now holds a similar role with the U20s. “I’ve been watching the boys in the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game against Fiji. Babs is doing a really good job with the team. He’s a top coach who helped me massively.”
He has been fortunate to have several positive role models in his life, with dad Dean now head coach of his boyhood club, Wattstown. “Valleys rugby is in our blood,” states Lewis, who describes the “privilege” of having turned out for Pontypridd several times since he turned 18. “My brother, Adam, is also a centre for Ystrad Rhondda, who just came second in their first season in the Championship.”
Family ties are clearly important to him. He speaks about the support of his parents, including mum Nicola, who have travelled the world to watch their son represent his country. “I couldn’t do it without them. Their support for me is massive. I still spend every day with them. Going away and playing for Wales is amazing, but knowing your parents are in the crowd means you’ve got something extra to play for.”