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The second coming of Aled Brew

By Lee Calvert
Aled Brew may have been written off by many, but he has been rejuvenated since joining Bath. Image: Getty

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Years after a bright start to his career, the Welsh winger had joined rugby’s ‘where are they now’ crowd … Then, he moved to Bath

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Rugby is littered with players who looked very good for about a fortnight when they were 19 years old.

They may even have underlined their potential with a few international caps before slowly being airbrushed out of the thinking of coaches – until one day, years later, they appear in a club game somewhere and fans wistfully comment, ‘Remember him? He looked good for about a fortnight when he was 19’. Such appeared to be the lot of Wales winger Aled Brew before an entirely unexpected move to Bath this season changed everything.

Brew is an archetypal modern winger; more than six feet tall and worrying the scales near the 99kg mark, he is physical, quick and hits hard.

These attributes saw him win nine international caps, the first won as a 20-year-old in 2007, and be a solid performer for Newport Gwent Dragons where he scored 48 tries in 103 appearances in two stints before a move to Biarritz.

This move coincided with a depressing downturn in the form and fortunes of the club and Brew’s showing there was a perfect vignette of the wretchedness around him; he scored a paltry three touchdowns in 53 appearances. He returned to Dragons in 2014, where he made just seven starts in two years and failed to cross the whitewash. Safe to say, it was not quite the homecoming of a cult hero the fans had hoped for.

Save for a few misty-eyed Dragons fans, by 2016 Brew was almost entirely forgotten by professional rugby, a victim of the game’s Foregone Conclusion Syndrome™ where a popular narrative becomes an accepted truth. In this case the ‘truth’ was that Brew looked decent when he was younger, never realised his potential and became a limited lump no longer worth considering. This, combined with the fact he was fast approaching 30 meant that the end of his story had already been written in a largely tragi-comic style.

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Then Todd Blackadder came to Bath.

Arriving from New Zealand, Blackadder, unencumbered by the northern hemisphere rhetoric which had thrown Brew on the scrap heap responded to the question: “Why don’t you have a look at Aled Brew?” with curiosity rather than sniggering and he invited him in for a four-month trial at the Rec.

It is interesting that rather than focus on perceived deficits in Brew’s game, Blackadder instead considered what he could bring to the Bath squad: “Aled is an international standard winger, so we are very pleased that he’s joined the club,” the Bath coach said at the time. “He was looking for a fresh start and will give us some more experience and add to the depth within the squad.”

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Following some bench starts, Brew was called into action first as a centre and then back to his regular berth on the wing – and even in defeat at Wasps on Christmas Eve he looked strong, involved and – most importantly – rejuvenated.

When asked to comment on Brew’s reinvention, Bath legend David Flatman said: “It just shows what putting a player in a new, different environment can do”.

Brew himself said of his new club: “It’s basically like an international set up there; everything is spot on.”

It is, perhaps, an indictment of previous setups who either couldn’t get the best out of him or became victim to the Foregone Conclusion Syndrome™. How many other players will see coaches give up on their talent early? As if a player is somehow beyond development once they reach their early to mid-twenties. Wales’s latest teenage wunderkind, Ospreys winger Keelan Giles, would do well to be wary of this trap – and not just because he turns 19 in January 2017 – as would the coaches responsible for nurturing his talent.

Where does Brew go from here? Could his turnaround involve another international call-up? His impressive performances in his four-month trial at Bath won him a full contract with the Aviva Premiership club until the end of the 2017-18 season and he’s playing well in one of the best leagues in the world. And Wales are not exactly flush with outside backs at the moment. 

He has already confounded his doubters – who’s to say he cannot continue?

Aled Brew’s Bath entertain Exeter Chiefs at the Rec at 11pm (HKT) on Saturday. See the match live on Rugby Pass

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