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Lucas de la Rua: 'You're almost in shock, there’s nothing you can do'

By Liam Heagney
Lucas de la Rua (centre) sings the Wales national anthem last Saturday in Athlone (Photo by Thinus Maritz/World Rugby)

Thursday should have derby day for Wales’ Lucas de la Rua at the World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa. His exotic-sounding name is rooted in the Iberian Peninsula as both his parents hail from Spain, but he is very much a born-and-raised Welsh boy even though he can speak Spanish and the family used to head south to the continent from Cardiff twice a year on holiday.


2024 is Spain’s first time participating in the premier U20s tournament but hopes that de la Rua had of going up against the land of his parents in Athlone were sidelined on Tuesday when it was confirmed he was being rested with a view to instead being in peak shape for next week’s pool qualification showdown with France, the defending champions.

As the ultimate team man, there wouldn’t have been any crib from him about the decision taken by coach Richard Whiffin to rotate 10 of his players following the gutsy late flourish that bagged them two bonus points in the 34-41 loss to New Zealand last Saturday, giving them a fighting chance of still having a say in who goes forward to the semi-finals.

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HITS, BUMPS AND HANDOFFS! | The biggest collisions from the U20s World Championships

That’s the thing about these Welsh youngsters: they know they are not the greatest age-grade team ever but their resilience and unselfish attitude has them collectively fighting when backs are to the wall. It’s definitely in the nature not to be fazed by potentially unsettling situations.

Take de la Rua: It was last December when he was handed his maiden Cardiff first team start and it wasn’t a low-frills URC fixture either. Matt Sherratt decided to drop him into the back row for an away day at Toulouse to see if the openside could sink or swim off the deep end. He survived and did likewise the following weekend versus Bath. Well played.

World Rugby U20 Championship
Wales U20
31 - 10
Spain U20
All Stats and Data

“It was a bit unexpected because I would have come back from the U20s World Cup this time last year and my expectation was just to keep ticking over, keep working hard, just go into the pre-season,” explained de la Rua to RugbyPass, his voice competing to be heard above some drilling taking place at the Wales team hotel in Cape Town.

“What happened was that I was fortunate there were a lot of back row injuries so with that I was forced to step up. So again, a bit unexpected. I played games I probably wouldn’t have been playing in if not for injuries but you have just got to take that on the chin, take that as a good experience. I’d say I was quite fortunate playing this year, playing five-ish (first-team) games.”


C’mon, tell us what it was really like that French winter’s afternoon as a 19-year-old to be going up against the eventual champions who beat Leinster in the final in May before then adding the Top 14 title to their collection last weekend? “Obviously I was terrified a bit because it was sort of getting thrown in the deep end for your first start.

“I didn’t know that would be happening until the week before, so I think I went into that game and wasn’t as nervous as I thought. I am still young, there is no expectation so as long as I go out there and just play rugby I should be alright.

“I remember turning up at the ground and it’s a completely different atmosphere. Massive crowd greeting you off the bus, the stadium is completely packed and it almost like a surreal memory to look back on I think because I’d say they are probably one of the best teams in the world so to have the privilege to play against them, it’s unbelievable.

“They just kept on carrying and then after every carry they were offloading. You were constantly retreating and then they just flick passes, get to one wing and it’s non-stop. The difference in the speed from U20s to that is completely different. You are almost in shock in the moment but yeah, there’s nothing you can do about it. In the moment you have just got to keep playing.”


His opposite number that afternoon was Anthony Jelonch while a certain No9, Antoine Dupont, was also on deck, making it quite a thrill for de la Rua to be testing himself. “Almost can’t believe it because you’d been watching him [Jelonch] on the TV for the Rugby World Cup and to be playing against him was a bit surreal. Again, it was a privilege to play against a good seven.

“Dupont was a different story as well. Again, probably best player in the world. To be able to play against him was… I was just for the most part trying to enjoy it because not a lot of people can say they have played against these players, so to achieve that is amazing.

“Then we had Bath straight after. That was reassuring, that was good. Again, I don’t think I was expecting to play that one, that was another injury. But what you get out of those games, you are playing against some of the best players in the world, the experience and the stuff you learn from games like that is not a lot of people say they can get that. To be able to go from a game like into an U20s tournament with that sort of experience is so valuable.”

De la Rua has come a long way from his rugby babysteps. “I first started playing in primary school, year five, year six. We had a little after school rugby and I was quite good back then so my high school teacher encouraged me to join a club, which was quite hard at the time as a lot of clubs were full up. But I managed to find a club at Llandaff, so around year six I started playing rugby. That is around age 10 I’d say.”

It wasn’t just rugby he played, but his height and speed gave him an edge in the game that he liked and he took it on to fresh heights at St Peter’s. “I used to play goalkeeper up until I was 13 years old. I’d been watching rugby, I’d never had the taste of it, never played it, but I actually liked it, I was quite good at it so like anything, any sport you are quite good at… I was a bit tall for my age. I was pretty fast as well. I just enjoyed it. It’s a different sport. You have been watching it and then you get to play it.”

Playing it well has taken de la Rua back to Cape Town for the second successive July. The craic is entertaining, the surroundings familiar with Wales checked into the same Strand Street hotel they were in last year. “I don’t really want to mention individual names but we do have a few characters. It’s quite a good environment.

“I wouldn’t say a laidback environment but everyone is pretty friendly with each other, everyone has got their little different groups but when it comes to training or stuff outside of rugby everyone is pretty well gelled together. A few of us boys play golf and the main one I think is a lot of people go to Nandos. That’s pretty much it.

“We have got to take that confidence into the games,” he added, referencing the familiarity and how well experienced the Wales U20s squad is this year. “A lot of players not just have a lot of U20s caps but they have professional experience.

“Morgan Morse played for Ospreys this season, Ryan Woodman for Dragons, Macs Page, Louie Hennessey, we have a lot of players who have played in a professional environment. What you learn from that is so valuable when you come into an U20s game. We really want to take confidence from that going into these games.”

They have seen what can be quickly achieved if things go your way. It was just 20 metres along the corridor from where de la Rua was sat that RugbyPass last year interviewed a then-unknown Cameron Winnett. The now 21-year-old has become a regular in Warren Gatland’s Wales Test team, winning six caps this year, and he is part of their squad on tour in Australia.

That’s a success story that gives de la Rua and his U20s colleagues in Cape Town every incentive to go and impress. “That is what I was saying, if you keep working hard anything can happen. With rugby it happens so quick.

“Cam literally went from U20s and less than a year later he is already playing for Wales. It does help a lot of us young players to get a bit of confidence in the system, that you have just got to keep playing, keep working hard, keep turning up, that’s pretty much it,” reckoned the Cardiff academy player who has no time for the negativity that generally surrounds Welsh regional rugby. “It’s a growing period. There is obviously a lot of young players at the moment.

“Cardiff have had a lot of success with that, and Ospreys have had good success in URC. There just needs to be patience. The regions are probably not at the stage they want to be but in time all those young inexperienced players will become experienced and then there will be plenty of talent coming through. I don’t think it is going to switch on overnight.

“People make their comments but people are going to say that about anything really. They will start blaming anyone. You try not to take notice of that. I don’t know what to say.”

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1 Comment
David 17 days ago

This is great

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