During the Six Nations we talked to the Welsh hooker about control, lineouts and leadership

Below is a feature with Dewi Lake from the issue of Rugby World that was out in March…

IT’S A refrain we have heard from several heavies down the years. After joking his only use at a sevens tournament would be to rotate on for the drop-goals, Wales hooker Dewi Lake tells us: “I think I’m a ten trapped in a front-rower’s body.”

It’s a second mention of putting boot to ball from the 23-year-old Osprey too. When he was a youngster watching his father play, he would take a tee down to the club and might get a shot at the poles at half-time, he tells us. But had he kept it up, being a goal-slotting hooker wouldn’t be the only quirk to Lake’s sporting CV.

He was a talented gymnast, representing Wales nationally at around ten. But rugby mania would take over. As he says: “I found a lot of transfer from gymnastics to rugby. Probably not in the front row specifically but around the park. It was a lot of bodyweight stuff and being in control of your body. And, obviously, you have that core strength you have developed from a young age.

“At a sort of elite level of gymnastics, it got me used to a rigorous training plan, which has obviously helped me now.”

This is a young man who has led Wales U20 to special results, once taking the fight to New Zealand in an 8-7 victory in Argentina. After that triumph he couldn’t hold back the emotion, but it’s also clear he has it within him to be a leader. At Ospreys, and with the national team, big things are expected of him.

But from this arises a theme. One the man himself mentions a few times. And it makes you wonder if the notion of ‘control’ impacts his rugby outlooks.

“I think a lot of people talk about aggression in this game, but no, it’s obviously that controlled aggression,” Lake begins. “You could fly off the handle and we’ve seen it over the years. Something can happen, you can lose the head. It’s about being in control of yourself and the things around you. And obviously, a big thing in rugby is just controlling what you can control.”

On leadership specifically, he adds: “It comes in a lot of forms. There are people who are good leaders with words. Well-spoken leaders. There are also leaders who just lead with example, who maybe don’t talk as much but their actions on the field or off the field, in training, is what makes them a leader.

Dewi Lake

Lake tackles Willie le Roux (Getty Images)

“You take Alun Wyn Jones, for instance. He’s never seen walking in training. He always jogs into things and boys follow that. Other boys don’t want to be seen walking, then. That’s his quality of leadership – people are willing to follow him. You look at something that has been in the media again recently, a video of Roy Keane walking out the tunnel before the referees. The whole Manchester United squad just follow him. You know that’s the kind of quality of leader he was that he had everyone’s back and they’re willing to just walk out with him.”

Talk turns to lineout throwing. As someone who converted to hooker from the back row, attention has fallen on his ball-flinging, and as any quality hooker will tell you, it is a lifelong work-on. However, only within the past year or so has he found a process for throwing that he is comfortable with. Compare his technique to even those days in the U20s and it’s a big difference.

Related: Wales Summer Tour Squad 2022

You can have the best intentions but unwittingly hammer bad habits. Lake was one of those who went down the park with his old man holding a lollipop aloft for him to throw at, but he came to realise mechanics needed smoothing out. He is prepared to work and, he says, “learn, forget and relearn”.

There is also something of the leap of faith about throwing at elite level. Yes, everyone has to put in plenty of hard shifts on their own techniques, but you cannot micromanage every element of a lineout from your touchline. You will have to trust in the jumpers and lifters and nine, as much as in your own ability. It needs collective buy-in and conviction.

Lake says: “I think it also goes back to what we were saying earlier about control. In Dublin, if there was a lot of wind in the Aviva Stadium, that’s not something I can control. What I can control is my process before I throw, and my throw.

“So it’s about trying to stay in control of those things when there are 80,000 fans screaming at you. Sometimes you can’t control decisions but, you know, you let them go. You’ve got to move on and you’ve just got to try and stay in control.”

There is an air of grounded confidence about Lake – dare we call it Lake Placid – but also the feeling that he is prepared for the undulating fortunes of this game. Could you call it a Zen amongst Test wreckage? It’s a hell of an arena to learn in. Maybe one day he can unleash his drop-kick there too…

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