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Wales’ RWC: The alternative awards

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Wales' World Cup - Owain Jones' alternative awards

Wales’ World Cup roller-coaster came to an end in the Third-Fourth place play off in Tokyo where an injury-ravaged Welsh side were comfortably beaten by a New Zealand side still reeling from their semi-final loss to England.

It was the culmination of a seven-week assault on rugby’s biggest prize and although Warren Gatland’s men fell short, they reached only their third semi-final in 32 years, going out to eventual winners, South Africa, through a late 76th minute Handre Pollard penalty. Along the way, some reputations were forged, some diminished as Wales carried a nation’s hopes.

As they ready themselves to head home, here are some decidedly unofficial gongs to hand out…

The ‘world is his oyster’ award – Josh Adams

Josh Adams had enjoyed an encouraging start to his Welsh career in 2018, but that was merely an aperitif. 2019 was a truly transformative year for the Carmarthen-born flyer who was released by his home region, the Scarlets, as a teenager forcing him to refine his game at Worcester Warriors.

Seven tries in seven games made him the top try scorer in Northern Hemisphere history in the tournament but that didn’t tell the full story. He made the most breaks with 18 and came seventh in metres made, with 390. Such is his progression that he will be seen by many as Wayne Pivac’s first choice wing next year. George North, by contrast, endured a quiet tournament and he will know his place is not to be taken for granted. If there was a game where Adams really came of age, it was against Fiji where he endured a torrid opening quarter. Left for roadkill by Josua Tuisova and using a weak shoulder to try and bring down Kini Murimurivalu, he was already reeling when he spilled a pass from Jonathan Davies. For a moment, the Cardiff Blues wing could see his Test career at a crossroads, yet he found the resolve to dig in and was rewarded with a hat-trick. From there, he kicked on and was Wales’ standout player against New Zealand.

The ‘it’s only a little bit of blood’ award – Ken Owens

The Sheriff of Carmarthen throws himself into contact with the reckless abandon of a 20-year-old and his love of close quarter contact meant his forehead was a mass of sweat and blood for a large part of the tournament. His was a flesh wound that wouldn’t heal as he spilled claret for the cause but he didn’t give his eye-catching graze the slightest attention as threw his head into rucks with customary ‘Cannonball Ken’ ferocity. A tub-thumping tournament from Wales’ most capped hooker, and time now to restore his rugged good-looks.

The ‘NBA hang time’ award – Tomos Williams

With minutes to go against the Wallabies and with Wales under unbearable pressure, Matt Toomua pumped the ball into the Oita sky, as Australia looked to turn the screw deep in Welsh territory. Fifty metres back lay the smallest Welsh defender – and former basketball player – Tomos Williams.

In an ode to the considerably taller LeBron James, Williams sprung backwards out of play and flipped the ball infield, in a feat of great dexterity, to a waiting Adams to hoof the ball back with interest. Not too shabby from the Treorchy’s resident jack-in-the-box and a fine tournament ensued.

The ‘flying before you can walk’ award – Hallam Amos

The incoming Cardiff Blues wing-cum-fullback is undoubtedly a talented fellow, as we witnessed with his arcing run around Ben Smith and step inside Richie Mo’Unga to score a classy try against New Zealand but against Uruguay he had the sort of game only a mother could love. Amos had already had two tries disallowed – one for a forward pass and one for a foot in touch – when he had a final chance to redeem himself. The old adage is, ‘third time lucky’, well it didn’t ring true for Amos.

When Rhys Carre broke down the left flank like a baby rhino on the loose and whipped a 15m pass off his right hand, 22m out, the wing could see the corner flag. He had time to slide in to score but instead went for the acrobatic mid-air grounding so beloved by photographers. The only problem was he didn’t have a firm grasp on the ball and lost control of it on grounding. Amos trotted away sheepishly, leaving referee to check with the TMO. The replay showed his egregious error, leaving referee Angus Gardiner chuckling. He wasn’t seen for another three games.

The ‘trussed up like a mummy’ award – Hadleigh Parkes

Hadleigh Parkes has earnt every one of his Welsh caps after the age of 30, and the Huntersville toiler has stretched every sinew for his adopted country. He’s been in the wars, wearing a bloodied headband during the Six Nations, but in this tournament, he has been out on his own in the pain game. He broke a finger against Georgia, having it strapped up for the rest of the tournament, before banging a shoulder against Uruguay and being further padded up just in order to get through games. He was forced to keep on trucking because of Jonathan Davies’ knee injury and it was a small mercy he had 55 minutes respite against New Zealand before coming on. Apart from that, he played in every minute of the tournament, carrying into contact again and again. If there’s any justice, you won’t see Parkes much before Christmas.

The ‘catch me if you can’ award – Gareth Davies

Ali Price knows all about Gareth Davies. The Scottish scrum-half had his pass read and picked out for Davies to gallop away 80m and score against Scotland in February 2018, so when Will Genia took an extra step to send his pass to Bernard Foley, he knew what was coming. Accelerating out of the line the Scarlet, picked the ball out of the air and sped away from the flailing Wallaby defenders and down the left hand tramline, outpacing Foley, to run in unopposed and give Wales, what proved to be their match-winning score. The lesson was clear, beware of the man they call, ‘Cawdor’.

Wales alternative awards

Gareth Davies sprints away for Wales in the pool stage. (Getty Images)

The ‘Benjamin Button of rugby’ award – Alun Wyn Jones

Bonymaen’s pride and joy wouldn’t let you know he’s raging against the dying light. In fact the Welsh captain probably revels in the fact many people try and keep retiring him. Indeed, as a stubborn bugger of the highest order, it probably motivates him. Just 34, with a contract with the WRU and the Ospreys set to expire in July 2021, Jones thought he should just remind those who doubt him how much oil he has left in the tank by topping the Rugby World Cup tackle charts with 79, or in old money around 17 tackles a game. With a nomination for World Player of the Year bagged and now the holder of the second most Test caps in rugby history, there will be plenty of dust in the eye when Jones finally hangs up his boots, on his own terms.

The ‘unlikely romance’ award – Jake Ball and Faf de Klerk

Jake Ball had a fine tournament for Wales. The main beneficiary of Cory Hill’s untimely injury, the bearded Scarlets behemoth provided some much-needed go-forward in the middle of the park but Ball saw red when riled by the diminutive Springbok scrum-half, Faf de Klerk, during the tense World Cup semi-final.

Grabbing him by his lapels, the 6ft 7in, 19st second row gave de Klerk the sort of look that could curdle cream, while the Sale Sharks scrum-half fluttered his eye-lashes and laughed in his face. It was quite the courting routine and ended with Ball resting his giant forehead against de Klerk as if it to say, ‘there are cameras here, wait until I find a darkened alley, goldilocks’. If a clip could sum up the difference between backs and forwards, this was it.

Press conference with Warren Gatland and Alun Wyn Jones and Gatland’s final game as Wales head coach ended in defeat. New Zealand emphatically won the World Cup bronze medal 40-17 at Tokyo Stadium.

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Wales' World Cup - Owain Jones' alternative awards