Will Rowlands may be a product of the historic cradle of English rugby, but he insists it will only ever be Wales for him.
The second tier of the Dragons attended Rugby School, the seat of learning where William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it in a football match in 1823, creating a new sport.
Rowlands, born in Hammersmith, went on to study at Oxford University before spending seven years with Wasps.
He was therefore born, brought up and educated in England.
But he has always been keenly aware of his Welsh family roots, with his father Jeremy hailing from Pontllanfraith.
So, as he’s set to run in the red of Wales at Twickenham for the first time, he’s quick to point out that there has been no identity crisis when it comes to the country he wanted to play for.
“All the rugby in my background comes from the Welsh side of my family – my parents and my grandparents,” he told S4C ahead of the Six Nations clash with England.
“It was always apparent to me growing up, even though I grew up outside of Wales.
“In the past I watched the Wales-England games – and the whole rivalry – and that was always the one I wanted to play in.
“I know a lot of guys who will be involved and I’ve known them for years.
“The chance to play against a good friend of mine like Joe Launchbury would be fun.”
Rowlands admits his training makes him somewhat nervous about people having a particular perception of him.
“There’s a stereotype around people who have gone to state schools in England that it gives people an air of entitlement in life,” the 30-year-old said.
“But it’s not something I have. The school I attended certainly produced strong, well-rounded individuals. It wasn’t elitist, like some all-boys public schools that have a certain reputation.
“I’m still a little nervous about it because it’s easy to stereotype people. Sometimes it’s justified, but I don’t think it applies to me.
“I really try not to live up to that stereotype at all. In many ways, while my journey has been helpful in a personal sense, it’s not the path you would choose if you wanted to maximize your chances of playing professional rugby.
“I was late in the game and behind in the pro setup. It added fuel to my fire.
“I’m glad I had the rugby path that I followed because I really enjoyed being out of the rugby bubble and had grown a bit before I got into it.
“Some of my best friends are still from school and college. But I also have a lot of good rugby buddies now.
Having made his debut for Wales against France in February 2020, the 6ft 6in Rowlands now has 15 caps to his name and delivered perhaps his best performance on the international stage in the win over England. Scotland.
In the absence of second-row talisman Alun Wyn Jones, he’s really stepping in as one of the team’s most seasoned players.
“I like having responsibility and for the small areas of the game that I have responsibility for here,” he said.
“I don’t necessarily always find it easy to be in leadership positions, but I think in my career so far, when I’ve been in charge of certain things, I tend to perform better. It’s something I like to have.
“It started in the summer, when there were guys on the Lions tour and some guys got injured.
“It was a very young team and that carried over into the fall and this tournament.
“It forces guys with a bit more experience to step up. I don’t have a lot of international rugby experience, but I’ve been around different rugby environments – and general environments outside of rugby – a bit more than some of the younger guys here.
“I hope to bring some maturity in certain areas.”
While it will be Rowlands’ first visit to Twickenham in a red shirt on Saturday, he has played there twice for Wasps in the Premiership final and a few times for Oxford University.
* You can watch England v Wales live on S4C from 4.15pm on Saturday. S4C will also show England U20s v Wales U20s from 6.45pm on Friday evening, English commentary available.
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