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The sliding doors moment that changed Wales' Aaron Wainwright

By Simon Thomas
Wales' Aaron Wainwright (Photo by Ian Cook/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Judgement Day will see Aaron Wainwright return to the ground which could have been his home had his sporting career taken a different turn.

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From the age of 10 to 15, he was part of the Cardiff City FC academy, with another Aaron – Ramsey – the player he admired most there, while Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira was his football idol.

He was ultimately released, though, and a sliding doors moment very much became rugby’s gain as the 48-cap back row forward has become a mainstay of the Wales national team.

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He now heads back to the Cardiff City Stadium with Dragons for an end-of-season BKT URC derby clash with the Scarlets this Saturday.

Reflecting on his soccer days, he said: “I was a centre midfielder and then I went and played centre-back. Aaron Ramsey was someone I really looked up to at the club, while my idol was Patrick Vieira. I had a couple of team photos at the stadium and we did the odd training day there.

Fixture
United Rugby Championship
Scarlets
32 - 15
Full-time
Gwent Dragons
All Stats and Data

“When we were sharing the academy buildings, we were surrounded by some of the older players and the age-grades above. You would see how they carried themselves and it was a bit of an eye-opener, just the routine of how to be a professional.

“That’s what they tried to drill into us from an early age. A massive part of it was we did a day release scheme, so one day a week you would not go to school and just come and train throughout the day.

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“That was a big eye opener in terms of what there is outside of school and what is needed to succeed in a competitive, professional environment.”

A rugby No8, Wainwright is now a strapping 6ft 3ins and 16st 9lbs, but he had a very different build during his football years. “I was tiny,” he recalled. “Then I had such a big growth spurt and I didn’t play for a while, the typical injury story. That’s part of the reason I got released.

“It came at a good time because it gave me a chance to really get stuck into my school work and then I went on and started playing rugby.”

As for whether he visits the stadium to watch Cardiff City, he replied: “I came to watch the Leicester game a few weeks ago, but I’m an Arsenal fan!”

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It has been a really busy season for Wainwright who has played some of the best rugby of his career over the past 10 months. He has started 11 of Wales’ last 13 matches, including all five in the recent Guinness Six Nations, while it will be his 14th game of the campaign for the Dragons this weekend. You won’t hear him complaining about his workload.

“I have played a lot of rugby this season and really enjoyed it,” explained the Newport-born 26-year-old. “I just love playing. If I don’t play, I am really frustrated. For me to keep performing well, I need to keep playing and keep having game-time.

“I have had a good season. I felt I did okay in the Six Nations. I appreciated how much game-time I had there and enjoyed going out playing those games, even though the results weren’t what we wanted.”

Turning his attention to Judgement Day, he said: “It’s always a tough battle against the Scarlets and one I look forward to and enjoy. We want to finish the season on a high. That would be massive and that is what we are aiming for.”

United Rugby Championship

P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Munster
17
12
4
1
63
2
Bulls
17
12
5
0
61
3
Leinster
17
12
5
0
60
4
Glasgow
17
12
5
0
60
5
Stormers
17
11
6
0
54
6
Ulster
17
11
6
0
53
7
Edinburgh
17
11
6
0
49
8
Benetton
17
10
6
1
49
9
Lions
17
9
8
0
49
10
Connacht
17
9
8
0
45
11
Ospreys
17
9
8
0
45
12
Cardiff Rugby
17
4
12
1
30
13
Sharks
17
4
13
0
25
14
Scarlets
17
4
13
0
22
15
Gwent Dragons
17
3
14
0
16
16
Zebre
17
1
15
1
15
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