The former footballer and now Dragons flanker has exploded onto the Test scene
THE RISE of flanker Aaron Wainwright has been meteoric. Having only got into rugby in Year 11 of school, in a few short years he has gone from soccer academies to uni rugby to Six Nations star and now a Rugby World Cup star. The Dragons flank has even being compared to Sam Warburton over the last year of Test rugby.
We let the man himself tell his own story…
I can still go to the shops! (During the Six Nations) I went out for food and it was normal. I do get double takes – you get that eye contact – but I go about things as normal.
Football started for me at seven or eight. I got picked up by Cardiff City for their development team and I played to 16s. I was a central defensive midfielder, protecting things in front of the back four. I moulded my game on Patrick Vieira and Claude Makélélé.
Vieira coached me when he was in Wales for his coaching badges. He was a role model for me, so that was a great experience. I was really nervous, a bit starstruck. I was young, around 14, so I was just trying to take everything in.
Newport Country took me in when Cardiff released me. After five months I was offered a scholarship. I’d have had to move school and didn’t want to. I wanted to stick where I was, to do my A Levels and be with my friends. That’s when I got into rugby.
Regan Poole is the big name at Newport. He went to Manchester United and was loaned back. They had a great cup run this season; after they beat Middlesborough, I sent a congratulations message.
My three sisters are all sporty. They did gymnastics and athletics. We’re competitive – board games start nice and end in arguments! That’s the competitive nature.
I went to the odd rugby session when I was younger, but didn’t play until Year 11. Football was coming to an end for me, the boys at school played and the teacher said, “Come down for a game.” The boys at school also played for Whiteheads so I went down there.
My dad, Adrian, played back in the day. For Caerphilly and Wales U21. He went from playing prop to back-row. After a game, if he says I’ve played well, I’ve played well. If he says I haven’t, I’ll know. But he’ll see different little things.
I did a bit at the Dragons Academy. They wanted to keep me on but I wanted to go to uni, so it was easier at the Cardiff Met system. After the first year I think the plan was to play for Newport RFC. So you were going from youth rugby to playing against big blokes who are trying to hurt you. And the university league is fast, like an English style of playing rugby.
At uni I was totally dependent on my student loan! I didn’t have time for a job. I was a paper boy at school and I’d be up before 6am every day. I also worked in a call centre and then in retail. My people skills aren’t the best but we had a script for the call centre!
I kind of got to where I am through the misfortunes of others. Some people at the Dragons got injured and I came in and took my chance. The same happened on the summer tour for Wales. It’s a case of making the jersey your own when you get a chance.
My Wales debut in San Juan was incredible. My father flew out to Argentina to see it (in June 2018). I was very nervous. I played about 30 minutes, thoroughly enjoyed it and the whole trip was a brilliant experience. International rugby is a big step up from regional rugby. My lungs and legs were going.
The daily routine is a similarity between football and rugby. The biggest difference is that rugby is more team-oriented. In football you can get a lot of individuals and people trying to do their own thing. In rugby you need your mate there beside you.
Most of my rugby for Wales has been at six. For the Dragons I’ll play seven. I see myself more as a six because my ability over the ball is not as good as some of the other back-rows. I’m working on that. All the back-rows do extras after training, jackling.
A lot of senior boys help me with calls if I’m not grasping them right away. I’m getting better. There’s a lot of analysis after training, which is good. At uni I tried to get my work in on time but there were a lot of late nights to get assignments in!
I coach at Whiteheads. My university course was sports science, which had a coaching side to it. I enjoyed that and loved youth rugby, so why not help out? It’s been really good so far.
This piece first featured in Rugby world during the Six Nations.