Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright could have made it as a professional footballer had he not switched his focus to rugby, according to his former coach at Newport. Wainwright has been a World Cup sensation in Japan and will be a key figure when Wales meet South Africa in Sunday’s semi-final.
But the 22-year-old began his sporting life as a footballer, spending several years at the Cardiff academy before being offered scholarship terms at League Two club Newport, who are away to Colchester United on Saturday. “We liked what we saw, but he’d just had a knock-back at Cardiff and was doing his A Levels,” said Danny Elliott, Newport under-23s development coach.
“He was hoping to become a dentist and his father was looking at the sensible option of Aaron going to university and getting his qualifications. Rugby was in the background and he was enjoying that, but he wasn’t taking it too seriously at the time.
“We told Aaron there was an opportunity for him here, but his dad was under no illusions that football was a very hard game to get into. What happened to him at Cardiff had a huge impact on him.”
Wainwright told Rugby World this month that he was a defensive midfielder who “moulded my game on Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele”. But Elliott believes that Wainwright had more to his game than simply protecting the defence and that he possessed box-to-box qualities.
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“Physically he was built well and very athletic,” Elliott said. “He was good on the ball and had a good range of passing. He was a very powerful midfielder and similar to a player we’d had two or three years previously. He reminded me of (Wales international) Lee Evans, who is now playing in the Football League at Wigan. He could get around the pitch and get box-to-box.
“It was a shame he decided to stay at school because the current boss Michael Flynn was coming in as academy manager. He would have been great for Aaron as a central midfielder himself and taken him on further. Justin Edinburgh (then first-team manager) was also unbelievable for the young kids, and I’m sure he would have got a chance if he’d continued the progress he was making.”
'I can’t wait to face David Pocock and Michael Hooper and I’m looking forward to having a good battle with them’
– @aaronwain97 tells @OwainJTJones about his quick rise from obscurity to going into battle for @WelshRugbyUnion against @wallabies #RWC2019https://t.co/cRzqGmPh3f
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 28, 2019
Wainwright’s rapid rugby rise began at Whiteheads RFC and he played for Premiership side Newport before Guinness PRO14 outfit Dragons gave him his debut in October 2017. The following summer, Wainwright made his international debut in Argentina and he has now established himself as one of Wales’ most important players with his performances in Japan.
Wainwright capped his man-of-the-match display in the 20-19 quarter-final victory over France with his first Wales try, showing the pace of a back in a sprint to the line. “I saw that try and I thought, yes, he could make those bursts from midfield,” Elliott said.
“I think that would have taken him a long way in football but he’s shown how adaptable he is. The attitude, level-headedness and good direction that he had from his father has helped him become a success in rugby.”
– Press Association
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