The Cardiff-born duo are thriving in Bristol. We convinced them to sit still and explain an exciting time. From the March 2021 edition of RW
Welsh Bears: Callum Sheedy and Ioan Lloyd in conversation
THERE IS an ease with each other as Callum Sheedy and Ioan Lloyd joke about Bristol being the fifth Welsh region and trying to convince Harry Randall to opt for the famous red. Both recent newcomers to Test rugby, fly-half Sheedy, 25, and quicksilver Lloyd, 19, are lighting up the Gallagher Premiership too. It is an exhilarating time for the pair.
So we decided to get the exiles to cool their heels and talk us through a range of subjects: their awareness of each other’s games, their rugby upbringings, their aerial link-ups and even their British & Irish Lions chances.
Welcome into the minds of two of Wales’ most entertaining youngsters…
Rugby World: You guys are from the same area of Cardiff, but when it comes to rugby, what were your very first impressions of each other?
Ioan Lloyd: Cal was the big dog at our rugby club – everybody loved Cal! I knew of him anyway and he’s a nice enough guy, so first impression-wise, I was just excited to meet him. We were both at the same club, St Peter’s. He’s obviously a bit older but when he moved to Millfield and started doing well in the Bristol scene, it got back home and we all heard about it.
Callum Sheedy: I remember he would have been 17, and we had boys coming in to fill numbers at training but with him you could see he wasn’t the bloke just coming to fill numbers. I remember we did a one-on-one drill, and we thought, ‘Who’s this little kid? Come on then, let’s see what you’ve got.’ And he was stepping boys and we were then thinking, ‘He means business!’
At that age it would be easy to come in and go under the radar, tick a few boxes, nod your head. He was still in school but you could see he was going to be special. He played the Singha Sevens while still in school and tore that up, then went full-time the year after. So from the moment he came into Bristol, boys could tell he had a big future.
RW: Is the one-on-one stepping something you’ve always worked on?
IL: As a kid I was watching people like Shaun Johnson playing rugby league, or a Quade Cooper. Even Benji Marshall – those were the kind of players I would watch highlights of on YouTube. I’d play rugby all the time with my brothers and try to imitate what they were doing. It wasn’t specifically working on footwork, just the game I like to model myself on.
As a kid, on a Saturday I’d sit in the back room and watch highlights. It’d get me up for a game on Sunday morning.
CS: Ioan mentioned rugby league players there. Growing up, I’d probably prefer to watch league than union. Ioan is talking about the individual sidesteps, which are obviously unbelievable, but I’m not quite as explosive as him, so I look more at boys who take it square to the line, throw no-look passes, the dummy runners and all that sort of stuff.
In union now we’re getting very league with, say, hard runners out the back or phase patterns. League has been doing that for ten, 12 years. League defence has come through and attack has to be one step ahead. I think we’re five or six years behind the likes of the NRL teams.
RW: The Lloyd brothers going at it, emulating those guys, is a fun image…
IL: St Peter’s is literally 200m away from where we lived. We used to choose to play on the street all the time, for some reason! Then going over to St Peter’s every day for kicking was great.
On the street, it would usually be two-on-one constant attack, with three of us. Whoever scored stayed in attack. Or my cousin from Merthyr would come down to make it two-on-two and we’d play in-between cars as the touchline – if you hit one, you’d run inside!
Yeah, I definitely learnt something from that. It was such a narrow space, if you drew the man and gave the ball, the chances are you’d still get caught by the defender. So in terms of offloading, my brothers are a lot better than me and found new ways to throw the dummy. But it helped me in some way.
RW: How much work goes into the kick-pass connection between you?
CS: When Pat Lam first came into Bristol, he said in attack all you really need is two people: a ball-player and someone on the touchline. Because the defence have to mark you, so you could beat them one-on-one or there’s the kick-pass option, which automatically gives you the width in attack.
IL: It’s the sort of thing you practise in the week. Whoever’s starting wing or full-back, or whoever is going to be on the touchline, Cal will connect with them and then you get some practice reps in. We tend to make a point before training, to have a look for it, you know it’s on.
The nice thing about playing with Cal is he’s not just got one kick. If the space is there he can put it there. There are lots of conversations on it in the week – Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan are big on it. Pat puts a big emphasis on it, too, before some sessions.
RW: How detailed does it get at Bristol?
CS: My words probably wouldn’t do it justice – with Pat, Conor McPhillips, John Muldoon with the forwards, and just how in-depth they go. Our analysis team is unbelievable. We’ll look at every single bit of the opposition, and create new phase plays in a week. We have about seven or eight different phase shapes we can go to. Boys need to learn their stuff. Mondays and Tuesdays are more learning days than physical days.
You need to do your homework. It’s not just hours in the analysis room. You go home and you’re doing analysis on your phone, on our app, and we can just flip from one phase play to another. At half-time Pat might say, “Right, we’ll flip into this phase play.”
RW: What kind of students are you?
CS: Ioan’s top of the class, he is!
IL: We’re both at the front of the class.
RW: Putting an apple on Pat’s desk?
CS: That’s Andy Uren who does that!
RW: What are the similarities between Pat and Wayne Pivac with Wales?
CS: As I’ve only spent a short time with Wayne, it’s hard to get a full impression. But they both coached in Super Rugby, so they’re keen on certain ideas and how the game wants to be played. Obviously, we spend every day with Pat so I guess we know him inside out, but in terms of rugby styles, they’re not a million miles away. Of course, there are differences coaching at club level, you get to spend more time with players.
RW: A big moment in your career: what are the memories of your Wales debuts?
CS: It was a night I’ll never forget. Unfortunately I couldn’t have the people close to me there, but the night itself was all a blur. I didn’t know if I was going to get on (against Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup), but when I did I was taken aback by the whole experience. It was one me and my family are very proud of.
My jersey is framed as well as Johnny Sexton’s, who gave me his. You look at your cap sometimes and pinch yourself.
IL: To this day it’s such a surreal feeling. It’s something I’ve dreamt of my whole life. I’ve always watched Wales, thinking I’d love to be out there. It came out of nowhere (he made his debut against Georgia) and even now I think, ‘Did it actually happen? What’s going on?’
RW: What are your goals now?
CS: Every week my goal is to start. One bad game for Bristol and someone else comes in. And we’d love to be in two finals, with Europe and the Premiership. That’s the end goal but there are a lot of stepping stones before then. Don’t play well for your club then you have no chance of international calls.
IL: Well Cal starts every week! My goal at the moment is to build up as much game time as possible and to solidify my spot in the team, take it from there.
RW: Everyone hates these gushing moments with their mates, but what can you tell us about each other?
IL: Playing with Cal I get to see how much work he puts into his game. It’s annoying because it doesn’t matter what time I pull up in the morning, it could be half-six in the morning and Cal was there for quarter past six!
The Welsh caps recently were great but I see all the work he does and he’s definitely got a lot more caps in him.
CS: Well, I see Ioan getting named as a potential bolter for the British & Irish Lions and I don’t see that as stupid.
IL: Things like that, it’s really nice to hear from people but I could never, ever see myself like that. Even when someone says that you’re an international, I don’t feel like I actually am. I’ve still got a lot to prove and learn (he missed out on initial Six Nations squad selection).
CS: That’s the beauty of Ioan. If he was an arrogant kid, you’d be trying to keep his feet on the ground and giving him little digs, but he’s a very level-headed person, in life. I always want to build him up because I genuinely believe the hype.
So I don’t see calls for Ioan playing for the Lions as stupid, I see it as possible. Why not, if he keeps improving? I’ve never seen a young person with a skill-set (like his) – he can pass off both hands, kick off both feet, goal-kick off both feet, kick for touch. I just need to convince him he’s a fantastic full-back so he stays away from playing ten!
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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