Welsh fly-half Rhys Patchell is on the bench for the World XV against the Barbarians on Sunday at Twickenham
Rhys Patchell counts himself lucky to have rubbed shoulders with Alun Wyn Jones with Wales but believes money cannot buy a like-for-like replacement for the legendary lock who announced his international retirement last week.
Fly-half Patchell has been named on the bench for the World XV and will face off against Barbarians captain Jones, who starts in the engine room on Sunday at Twickenham.
Patchell, 30, also won’t be going to the upcoming Rugby World Cup in France after missing out on Warren Gatland’s wider Wales training squad and admits the sudden retirements of both Jones and flanker Justin Tipuric came as a surprise.
Patchell on Alun Wyn Jones
Patchell said: “I was in the middle of a golf lesson and the news about Tips pinged through and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, that’s a bit out of the blue’ and then an hour later Alun Wyn, too.
“It’s important to appreciate and recognise what they’ve done for Welsh rugby and rugby generally; they are both talismans of the game. Alun Wyn surely will go down as one of the greats of world rugby. I was surprised but I didn’t have any insight into the decision. I didn’t expect it.
“He’s one of the most professional people you’d ever meet, his determination is inspirational. He’s everything you’d want in any team, frankly. I’m fortunate I have spent my whole international career so far alongside him.
“He will leave big shoes to fill in Wales. Inevitably the next person to fill Alun Wyn’s slot will come along, but I don’t think you’ll find another Alun Wyn for all the money in the world.”
Although Patchell is clearly disappointed to have had his World Cup dreams dashed so early, having been part of the squad that finished fourth in Japan in 2019, he at least will not be subject to the gruelling training camps used to whittle down the final 33.
Patchell was close to joining Bath a year ago which would have brought the curtain down on his international aspirations and suggests that if he was willing to walk away, he cannot be too downhearted when someone else pulls the rug from beneath his feet.
“Everybody likes to be wanted,” he said. “So to not get picked is disappointing in that respect. Having said that, at 30 years of age, you are a bit more pragmatic about these things. I know how hard that summer is going to be. I’ve done it twice.
“Those boys are in for a rough ride. So, I’m pragmatic about things. If 12 months ago, I was considering the option of going abroad which would’ve brought my international career to an end anyway and not play in the World Cup. Then I’ve also got to be prepared that somebody else won’t pick me to go.”
Adam Hastings will start at fly-half for Steve Hansen’s World XV with Patchell providing cover on the bench. The Welshman, who left Scarlets at the end of the season, is eager to make the most of mixing with the likes of Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau in a star-studded squad.
Patchell added: “The boys understand the responsibility we have on Sunday. We are here to enjoy the week but the lads aren’t the players that they are just because they rock up on a weekend and do it. There will be a serious element to it, of course, because there is an expectation to put on a show.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know all of the guys in the squad better. I was saying to Adam Hastings last night, I’ve played against him a few times. You finish a game, say ‘Hi, mate well played today’. And then you’re gone, the treadmill of professional rugby is relentless. To get to sit this week and talk to people and get to know them is an awesome opportunity.
“I hope I don’t sit back in a couple weeks’ time and go, ‘Oh, I wish I’d spent more time talking to the lads.’ I have the complete intention of making the most of getting to know everybody.”
While the Barbarians are as renowned as much for their boozy benders as their free-flowing rugby, the World XV is a little bit more of an unknown. Although Patchell is more than willing to fall in line with whatever gets organised, admitting he’s feeling star-struck in camp with so many big-hitters.
“The socials are for the fun committee and I’m not on that,” he explained. “As much as we are here to work, we have got to enjoy each others’ company. You follow the schedule when it gets sent out!
“Everybody feels the responsibility to put on a show. In some respects, It’s probably the closest thing to the NBA all-star game and then I’m playing! Which is what it feels like sometimes, looking around in team meetings. There’s a bit of impostor syndrome.”
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