The most surprising thing about the Ryan Bevington story is that he didn’t start playing rugby until he was 12. Not that unusual you may think, but considering his grandfather, John Dodd, played for Neath at prop and his father, Richard, for Llanelli in the back row, it’s incredible that young Ryan wasn’t press-ganged into action when he was in nappies.
“Both my dad and grandfather have been very supportive of me,” Bevington says. “But when I was young they didn’t push me at all. These days they love it and both of them come to every game they can.”
Growing up in Porthcawl, it was his friends who finally turned his head towards rugby. “Some of my friends switched to rugby when I was 12 and I just opted for that, ” he explains. “I just followed them.”
Bevington quickly made up for lost time and it’s incredible to think that it only took him ten years from picking up a ball for the first time to making his Test debut for Wales. That debut came at loosehead, where he plies his trade with the Ospreys, but those who watch him at the Liberty Stadium won’t be surprised to know that he played away from the front row for a long time. Bevington started his rugby life at No 8 and even had a spell in the centre. Not the typical grounding for a prop, but it may explain why he’s not only one of the quickest forwards in the Wales squad but also loves to have the ball in his hands.
“I played my youth rugby at centre but when we struggled in the scrums I moved to No 8 and I remember when someone went down injured I went into the front row,” he recalls. “I also played prop for district sides as I came through. I gradually became more effective at prop, establishing myself in the position when I was 15.”
Bevington’s progress has been aided by the excellent academy system in place at the Ospreys, which meant he had a professional attitude from his mid-teens. “I’ve been in the academy at the Ospreys since I was 15, coming all the way through the system, so that made the change into a prop and the different training challenges easier to overcome,” he says.
“I have been coached in conditioning and looking after myself from an early age. I have come on a long journey, quite quickly. Because of the system, the training has become second nature.”
Bevington has also thrived on the great atmosphere at the Ospreys, where all the props in the squad are known to act as one big team and do all they can to help each other out. “We’re a close bunch of guys at the Ospreys and I have found particularly Adam Jones and Duncan Jones (with whom he competes for the loosehead spot) very helpful. We’re continually bouncing ideas off each other and helping each other whenever we can. I think Duncan and I are similar players and we’re also similar people. We like to do the same sort of things and from my point of view it means we have that level of competition that some teams don’t. At the Ospreys you have myself, Duncan and Paul James – three international looseheads battling for one place, which is great for us.
“We all know we can never take a backward step or our foot off the gas. I’m delighted with that. No player wants to get handed the jersey and just take it for granted. You always want to earn it and being in such a competitive environment will make you better in the long run.”
His rise to his Test debut in an all-Ospreys front row against the Barbarians last June was remarkable and shows the strength not only of the regional set-up but also of the Principality Premiership. “This time last season I was playing for the Bridgend Ravens and by the end of it I had not only played for Wales but gone with them to a World Cup,” says Bevington.
“You only have to look at the World Cup squad to see a lot of boys like Lloyd Burns, Scott Williams, myself and Lloyd Williams who have come through the same way. It shows you can still get Test players from the Principality Premiership and I believe that league is only going to get stronger.”
Bevington made the Six Nations squad last season but he was as surprised as anyone to find his name on the list for the autumn’s World Cup, during which he played against Namibia and in the third-place play-off against Australia.
“I was watching the TV waiting for the squad to be announced, and the texts started flying in. Little did I know it was live on the radio!” he laughs. “The step up has been intense for sure, but I think my time in the academy at the Ospreys prepared me well for the different levels in the game. Like any player you find it hard at the beginning, but you get used to it and get comfortable in the new environment. Going to the World Cup was a dream come true and I don’t think anyone involved will forget the experience.”
That experience has inspired Bevington and he looks set to make many more appearances on the Test stage in the coming years.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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