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The Colwyn Bay game where Wales picked Dombrandt to face England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Stephen White/CameraSport via Getty Images)

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Five years ago current England back-rower Alex Dombrandt had a very different Six Nations experience than the one he is preparing to face this Saturday with Wales due to visit Twickenham in round three of the Guinness championship. The Londoner was part of the Welsh U20s set-up in 2017, called up to feature in the age-grade Six Nations due to his attendance at Cardiff Met University.    

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He spent three years in third level education in the Welsh capital and was even offered a deal by the Blues to sign professionally for them in his third year at uni. However, despite featuring in all five matches across that age-grade campaign with Wales, Dombrandt felt it best not to juggle rugby with education.

Dombrandt turned down the contract from Cardiff and instead only stepped into professional rugby a year later in summer 2018 when he joined Harlequins. The rest, as they say, is history, the No8 winning the Gallagher Premiership title last June and going on since then to make an England debut and play six times so far for his country, including a first Six Nations start last time out versus Italy in Rome.  

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Wales were beaten 37-21 that long-ago February night in Colwyn Bay, Dombrandt getting a run off the bench six minutes into the second half in an XV that featured Rhys Carre and he came up against plenty of names who have since become very familiar to him in the England set-up under Eddie Jones. Current teammates Harry Randall, Tom Curry and Nick Isiekwe were all in the English U20s starting line-up. 

“They were very impressive. It wasn’t a great day for me. We lost quite convincingly that day. I look back at those games with fond memories. It really helped me to be the player I am today to be exposed at age-grade international level,” explained Dombrandt, who went on to outline why he rebuffed the pro contract offer from Cardiff. 

Yes, I got offered a contract but I felt like personally, I wouldn’t have been able to commit 100 per cent to both the academics and being a professional rugby player so I took the decision to focus on my studies and park the rugby side of things and then see where I ended up at the end of my third year. I took the decision that I didn’t think it was possible to do the two 100 per cent.”

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Jump forward five years and Dombrandt is now vying with Sam Simmonds for the England No8 Test shirt in this Saturday’s Six Nations game. “We have a great relationship,” he claimed, dismissing the suggestion that the pair were instead huge rivals given their Test team positional battle.  

“We spend a lot of time off the pitch playing cards and chilling out and in terms of on the pitch, we are just trying to help each other’s games, little things we can pick up to try and help each other and we are doing that. It is notifying specific we are trying to work on but things we can see to improve each other’s game and we are doing that.”

What is the Simmonds trait Dombrandt most admires? “That out-and-out pace that he has got, there is not many quicker eights that pick from the base and do what he can do. And just that ability to find the try line. There are not many forwards out there that can score more tries than him. They are definitely the two things I pick up from him and something I try and improve myself from looking at that.”

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