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Sport The powerful Welsh rugby youngster once marked as the 'next big thing' who’s returned from France to play for Wales

19:55  13 june  2021
19:55  13 june  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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If travel is an investment in yourself, then the probability is Lewys Jones will reap quite a dividend.

a group of football players on a field: Lewys Jones has been called up to the Wales U20s Six Nations squad for 2021 © Huw Evans Picture Agency Lewys Jones has been called up to the Wales U20s Six Nations squad for 2021

The 6ft, 19st 2lb product of Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera headed for France last summer to take up a three-year deal with Nevers in the French second division.

Close to a year in, the highly-rated tighthead is on his way to mastering French and has played a dozen games over the past year at a time when many young players back home have been sitting out amid the pandemic.

"I guess in that respect I’ve been lucky," he told WalesOnline after being named in Wales’ squad for the U20s Six Nations.

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"The matches have been at under-23 level in France and just to be on the field has been a bonus.

"My club made it into the semi-finals of the tournament we’ve been in and the standard was pretty good. I’ve played about 12 games and tried to learn as much as I could in all of them."

Jones is the stepson of former Wales and Neath back-row forward Phil Pugh. Before he headed for France he’d been quietly building a reputation for himself. Indeed, when news came through of his impending departure to pastures new last year, this writer received a text saying the youngster " marked as the next big thing " was heading abroad.

But he’s had to get back into the old routine since returning home for the U20s Six Nations this summer.

"There’s a slight technical difference in the way things are done out in France scrummaging-wise, but I’ve been working with Paul James and getting back into old habits again, keeping square and stuff.

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"It’s been good.

"Paul and Duncan Jones were a big help to me at the Ospreys.

"They were both really good.

"Paul’s now with Wales U20s, which is great. He gives me feedback, drawing on his personal experience, which helps a lot.

"Scrummaging is very big in France. They like their scrums and are very passionate about them. For a young prop to be in that environment is a plus.

"It’s a question of reacting to the different way things are approached over here and in France.

"That said, ultimately it’s the same challenge: eight against eight, and seeing if you can get the better of your direct opponent.

"If you win the scrum, nine times out of 10 you win the game."

Nathan Evans and Zak Giannini are the other tightheads in Ioan Cunningham’s Wales U20s squad — "both good boys: the competition should be great for us all," according to Jones — with Wales starting off against Italy in Cardiff on Saturday, June 19.

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"I’m looking forward to the tournament," said Jones.

"It’s a chance to represent your country and an opportunity to prove yourself.

"Hopefully, there’ll be an opportunity to play. Whatever happens, I’m going to give it my best, keep my head down and work hard and try to make the most of the chance."

How will Wales do in the U20s Six Nations? Have your say in our comments section here.

And whatever happens, Jones won’t have any regrets about the decision he made last summer.

He made the call after regular trips to France as a youngster broadened his horizons and gave him the travel bug. Phil Pugh's contacts in France, established during his playing days, sealed the deal.

But it was still a big move for a teenager to up sticks and head for a different country.

"I signed a three-year deal and haven't once thought about negatively," he said.

"It was the best choice I could have made from a life experience and rugby point of view. I’ve made a lot of friends over there.

"I wanted an experience and I’ve got it.

"Things are a bit different with the rugby, obviously, but the principles are the same. It’s just something you have to enjoy and hopefully it’ll help my development.

"I’m just pleased people have kept faith in me.

"Before I left I was told I’d still be in consideration for Wales U20s as long as my form justified it. I was in the squad before the pandemic but suffered an injury and needed an operation on an elbow.

"Now I just want pay people back for sticking by me.

"We’re a young squad but there are some good players in there. If we play to the best of our ability, we could give a decent account of ourselves."

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