Rising to the challenge in the international arena, the Dragon has gone from civil construction to Test destruction

Taine’s World – with Wales seven Taine Basham

HAVING MADE it to the Test arena from the regional game with the Dragons, crossing the tracks into more treacherous territory, Taine Basham has been rocked like a southbound train. And you know what? He’s loved it.

He made his Wales debut in a summer of Lions action, coming off the bench each time for a full house – a win against Canada, a draw with Argentina and then a loss to the Pumas. Then in November, he started four Tests in a row against some serious units. He came out with plaudits against the All Blacks, went toe-to-toe with the Springboks, dug in against Fiji and was Player of the Match in the win over the Wallabies.

So before we even got to these Six Nations how had his physical world changed?

“You kind of feel the differences between people carrying at you,” the back-rower says of felling foes in the United Rugby Championship when compared to the international game. “In regional rugby there will be some boys, from my point of view, who carry with a bit less intent than they do in international rugby. Obviously in international rugby there’s more on the line.

“In that situation the main priority is to get them down. The second part is slowing the ball down and then, obviously, to try and win that ball back. So going through my head is to put a dominant hit in – it’s a physical game, and you don’t want to injure a person but you want to hit them hard.”

Taine's World – with Wales seven Taine Basham

Shining against New Zealand in November (Inpho)

After his barn-burning display against New Zealand, in a losing side, Wales boss Wayne Pivac said: “Taine was our Man of the Match. That performance will have helped us for 2023. He’s now an extra player we have.” In his first Six Nations outing, in a losing side against Ireland, the flanker made 22 tackles without missing any, made 15 carries into the teeth of the Irish defence, and even scored an intercept try – Wales only score of the match.

He simply relished the confrontation. And after his running through the checklist of jobs to be done in contact, another conversation comes to mind. Before we talk to Basham, one colleague points out that the 22-year-old looks euphoric when he gets a turnover. He appears besotted with the feeling.

“It’s a moment for a back-row, innit?” Basham says. “You get moments from wingers, where they score tries. With back-rowers, a turnover is like our try, in some sort of way. Getting a jackal or ripping the ball from someone in contact, that’s a moment that we can base our game around, really. So you try to weigh up those two.

“And obviously you know when you’ve done something well when you have 75,000 people cheering! It’s one hell of a buzz, yeah.

“When you play with a number seven on your back that’s what people expect, for you to make turnovers. It’s a nice feeling when you do make a turnover. I can’t really explain it. It’s a buzz that goes through you when you make a turnover, and your mates tap you on the back, you know you’ve done something well. You get a sense feeling.”

Basham’s professional life did not start down one distinct path before he hit a fork in the road and had to make a world-shaping decision. It’s more that he was taking a stab at a few things concurrently.

Taine's World – with Wales seven Taine Basham

Taking on the Boks, in November (Inpho)

He has a Level One diploma in plastering. His father, Dai, is a bricklayer and plasterer by trade. At a certain point in his young life, school was through and young Taine was already in the Dragons’ academy set-up. Heading off to play even more rugby at a college wasn’t for him, and it was apparent to him that if the sport did not pan out, it was best to have a trade to fall back on.

By his own admission, his bricklaying was somewhat lacklustre and so the Dragon focused in on plastering for his diploma. But after a six-month period of labouring when he was 17, he also admits he received a “wake-up call”.

Explaining what made the gig so tough, he says: “It was just the graft that me and the local boys had to get through. And obviously it’s a skilful trade too, plastering. You’ve got to be skilled to do it. So yeah, it was tough and I was enjoying it, but then rugby went uphill for me. So I just started fully focusing on rugby then.

“I did keep my eye in (in 2020). Me and my old man renovated a house together. I did do a few ‘chasings’ after we had changed the electrics, but if you wanted me to do a full room, my shoulders are too knackered for that I think!

“And obviously I can do no right in my dad’s eyes when it comes to plastering because it’s his trade! I’m a much better rugby player. He always tells me that when he was younger he was a better rugby player than me. I tell him I’m the better rugby player but he’s the better plasterer. It’s a bit of back and forth but it’s good banter.”

Father Dai played hooker for Cross Keys and Pontypool back in the day. But when asked if his dad always wanted his boy at the sledgehammer side of rugby, labouring away in the pack, the youngster explains that he was a centre when he began his rugby at Talywain RFC.

Let me shock you… It was while at centre that Basham discovered his love of tackling. As he aged he moved position to No 8, but then, as he explains with a grin, “I wasn’t big enough, apparently!” So he slid into the seven shirt.

What he learnt from his time in the centres, he reckons, is how to scan what’s in front of you. He also hopes that he can cut running lines like some top centres do, thanks to his time there. No doubt an absence of panic, should he find himself standing at first receiver, will help him too.

When he is asked if he has any grand designs in his career, or lofty ambitions, Basham makes sure his feet are cemented to the ground. He says he keeps his goals realistic and doesn’t want to sound like he is “deluded” about what might be, especially when he is so early in his career.

Basham is part of a crop of young Dragons who have come through the youth ranks together and are still thick as thieves. In Newport’s answer to the Class of ‘92, the troupe of Rio Dyer, Chris Coleman, Josh Reynolds, Will Talbot-Davies, Ben Fry and Max Williams can all be found together.

And Basham has also seen Ross Moriarty as something of a mentor. Calling him a “big brother”, the breakaway jokes that Moriarty has made sure he eats all his food and actually gets up in the morning. But as yet, no freebies from Moriarty’s fashion brand have been forthcoming…

The back-rower has also spent considerable time analysing the game of experienced Ospreys, Wales and Lions flanker Justin Tipuric. Basham says: “When I first came on the scene at the Dragons, I used to watch his clips, see the way he plays the game, because I was interested in his attacking ability. And in defence, when I was younger I used to watch Filo Tiatia and Jerry Collins play together for the Ospreys. I used to love watching them two cause havoc.

“I’ve been in two camps with Justin. So I picked his brains those times. But I’m definitely a watcher – I don’t really like to ask many questions. You’ll talk to some but I like to learn through actions. I think a lot of players learn in different ways and that’s mine (being shown it and then trying it out).”

We are all creatures of habit, and rugby athletes seem to crave patterns. A coffee with the boys in Newport is a weekly occurrence for the Dragons kids, while Basham has a regular appointment with a bracing recovery dip on a Wednesday.

He lives in Pontypool but he has beaten a path to Rest Bay, near Porthcawl, for his dunk. It’s a good 45 minutes away from where he is based, but it’s well worth the trek to the beach, he says. And hey, a lovely beach view can go some way to making up for any skin-shrivelling cold…

Basham try

Basham scores his try against Ireland (Getty Images)

Sometimes too, Basham says, the young Dragons crew will pile round Reynolds’s house for a big feed. Whether it’s the prop or his mum doing the cooking, Basham doesn’t know, but there are restorative powers in the traditional Filipino rice dishes being served up.

In Wales camp there is pleasure to be found in the impersonations done by Tomos Williams. Mentor Moriarty is, of course, one of the snappiest dressers Basham has seen (and it goes without saying, one of the hardest hitters), and there is even a nasty rumour – delivered with a hint of a wink – that Kirby Myhill will sometimes stay at Wales’ Vale of Glamorgan hotel base rather than go home because of the freebies on offer.

What is clear is that Basham enjoys the comforts he has found at the teams he represents. He has also found rare pleasure in the uncomfortable moments on the park, relishing the confrontations. He hopes he has made enough of an impression on those who pick the national squad and if he was to name one goal, it would be to come away from every camp a better player. Building blocks for a fine career.

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