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'I had to think about getting a job': Out of contract to Wales debut in 12 months

By PA
Alex Mann of Wales celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second try during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on February 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Wales prop Keiron Assiratti is set to face Guinness Six Nations opponents Ireland a year after his professional rugby career hung in the balance.

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He considered signing for Welsh Premiership club Merthyr as the regional game in Wales grappled with major financial issues that stalled contract offers to players.

Assiratti had nothing on the table from Cardiff, and he seriously considered dropping down a level, while also potentially finding work outside of rugby.

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But the subsequent turnaround in fortunes surpassed all expectations, with a one-year deal eventually being signed last summer before an extended contract was agreed midway through this season.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland also came calling, handing the 26-year-old a Test debut against World Cup warm-up opponents England.

Although Assiratti missed out on World Cup squad selection, he has made a strong impression in the Six Nations with his displays in defeat to Scotland and England.

Runaway title favourites Ireland now await in Dublin next weekend, with Assiratti top of the props on the tighthead side of Wales’ scrum.

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“It is a big change, to be fair,” he said.

“This time 12 months ago I didn’t know what I was doing with my rugby. Now, I can say I am doing quite well, so it has been a big turnaround.

“I had to think about getting a job for my family to try and secure everything.

“I was thinking of signing for Merthyr. That is what I was going to do. I didn’t think I was going to get anything at Cardiff at that time.

“I was speaking to one of the Merthyr coaches, but I also let things play out at Cardiff, then I had a run of games and now here I am.

“I wasn’t playing at all in the first half of last season, and it was really frustrating. I had to stick at it because I have got a family.

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“Now, when I think about what could have been and what is happening, I am glad I stuck at it.”

When Assiratti featured against England in August 2023, he fulfilled a promise he made to his late grandfather almost two years earlier.

Assiratti and his Cardiff team-mates were stuck in isolation at a Cape Town hotel during the coronavirus pandemic, having travelled to play two United Rugby Championship games, when he had a final telephone conversation with his grandfather before he died.

He told him during the call that he would play for Wales, and Assiratti now heads to Dublin as first-choice tighthead.

“I would love him to still be here, but I am doing it for my family now. Hopefully, he is up there feeling proud,” Assiratti added.

“I am enjoying playing and having the exposure of my first Six Nations.

“It was good to go up against Joe Marler at the weekend, a really experienced loosehead, and it was a good battle between us.

“It is going to be a test for us going out there (to Dublin) with a young squad, but as (captain) Daf Jenkins has said, we can’t keep going on about having a young squad. We just have to go there and meet fire with fire.

“I feel like it’s going to come, so people just have to be a little patient with us.”

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