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Harri Williams

Harri Williams in action against England U20 last year

Harri happy to have picked rugby in the end

Harri Williams might have been preparing to play Wimbledon this year if he had enjoyed a growth spurt when he was 11 years-old.

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The Scarlets youngster might also have become an eye-catching young professional footballer if he had stayed with Colchester United in his teens.

Instead, Williams is preparing for a second season as the Wales U20’s scrum-half and having made a miraculous recovery from a recent serious injury, will face Ireland on Friday night in a match that is live on S4C.

S4C: Friday, 7.50pm – Clwb Rygbi Rhyngwladol
Ireland U20 v Wales U20
Live coverage from Musgrave Park, Cork (English commentary available)

Williams, who grew up in Essex, but whose father is from Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley, played tennis, county cricket, academy football and rugby at the prestigious St. Joseph’s College School in Ipswich.

He was good enough on a tennis court to be ranked No.1 in Essex at the age of 10 and No.3 in Britain, but realised his court ambitions might end up being a bit of a stretch.

“I wasn’t really tall enough for tennis,” says the player who the Scarlets pulled out all the stops for to sign as a 16-year-old. “I got to the point where I was playing kids who were six feet tall and they had a much bigger reach than me and big serves, too.

“Football was the harder one to leave behind. I was playing football on a Saturday and then playing rugby afterwards without telling anyone. I was in the Colchester United academy for three years.

“But growing up, the dream was always to play rugby for Wales. I finally chose rugby and got my head down to that.”

Williams went to St. Joseph’s on a sports scholarship and it was whilst playing in their prestigious National Schools Rugby Festival that he was spotted by the Scarlets.

He was considered promising enough to play for the U20s as an underage player last season and he started the opening two games against Italy and Ireland. This time, he is one of the six starters who are playing their second campaign, a half dozen that includes captain Alex Mann, who will lead out Wales from flanker when they face the Irish at Cork’s Musgrave Park.

Two months ago, though, Williams looked as if he would not be playing any part in the tournament after he needed surgery on an ankle injury. An innocuous looking fall in training, with no other players around him, turned out to be severe damage to his ankle, with two of the three ligaments detaching from the bone.

“I had to have a reconstruction and a pin put in. I had got called back into the senior team at the Scarlets, was going to play against the Dragons, and then suffered the injury on the Tuesday before playing,” he said.

“It was just one of those things. No-one even touched me. I was just shuffling out and my whole ankle went from under me. I was told, originally, I wouldn’t play the Six Nations, and would have to write it off, but I did everything I could to make it. Overall, I was supposed to be out for two months, but I have managed to come back in nine weeks. It was nasty, but I’m glad to say I’m good to go.”

The only benefit of the timing of his injury has been that because of Covid and related restrictions, the No.9 has not actually missed out on many matches. When Wales U20 coach Byron Hayward arranged a warm-up match for his side last week against Swansea, Williams was not alone in playing for the first time since October.

Even so, both he and the Wales squad have high ambitions as they prepare to take revenge for last season’s loss at home to the Irish.

“We want to go out there and win the Grand Slam. I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “It was a difficult tournament last year with the restrictions but we have taken the positives from that.

“We got to know each other well, but now we are very lucky in being back where our families can come and watch us.

“I will go out there and do everything I can for my country. I want to play my heart out and win every game. The end goal is to win the Grand Slam but we know it’s going to be a very tough tournament with a really difficult start in Ireland.”

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