Justin Tipuric: Wales' magnificent seven without social media

Justin Tipuric in action for Wales against France in the 2019 Six Nations championship
Justin Tipuric made his senior Wales debut against Argentina in August 2011
Six Nations: Italy v Wales
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Date: Saturday, 9 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Justin Tipuric's distinctive blue scrumcap makes him one of world rugby's most instantly recognisable players, but he is generally somebody who prefers to avoid the limelight.

A shy and unassuming character, the Wales flanker would rather spend his days training than doing a raft of interviews.

This one, however, is a little different.

Wales are in Nice for a training camp between their Six Nations matches against France and Italy, and the combination of victory in Paris and glorious Mediterranean sunshine makes for a relaxed atmosphere around the team hotel.

The BBC Scrum V podcast team are also in Nice, and in their midst is one of the most celebrated players to have worn Wales' number seven jersey before Tipuric, Martyn Williams.

The two open-side flankers' careers with Wales overlapped only briefly but their versatile playing styles - as adept with ball in hand as when disrupting opposition play - had much in common.

Away from the field, though, there is a difference, and the 100-cap Williams asks his former team-mate why it is that he is so reluctant to do interviews.

"It's nothing against the media or anything but I just like to stay out of it all," Tipuric says with a bashful laugh.

"No social media at all. I'm probably the only one in the squad."

Williams, who at 43 is 14 years older than Tipuric, nods and says: "I thought I was old-school but I am on Twitter."

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It is a while since these two have been together with Wales - eight years, in fact, since they were first introduced at a training camp in Poland before the 2011 World Cup.

The two were room-mates on that occasion, and Tipuric made a lasting first impression.

"I'd seen him play for the Ospreys and heard he was good but this was off the charts," Williams says.

"We were training there, doing 'runways', a fitness test which was brutal.

"I'd heard he was fit and I was stood on the line, and Justin was there, and we were competing for the same position. Then Justin was at the other end of the field and I'm on the 22, thinking 'Oh my God'."

Tipuric giggles at the memory, before modestly moving the conversation on.

It is interesting that Williams notes his former team-mate's fitness because that might be the last attribute that comes to mind when someone would be asked to describe Tipuric.

Justin Tipuric of the Lions is tackled during the match between the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians and the British & Irish Lions at Toll Stadium on June 3, 2017 in Whangarei, New Zealand.
Justin Tipuric played against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians during the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour

The British and Irish Lions back-rower is supremely skilful, and his showreel of tries - some from audacious kicks he gathers himself, others from deftly dummied passes - would be befit a fly-half or centre more than a flanker.

He is also formidable defensively, a solid tackler and a menace at the breakdown.

And do not be fooled by his friendly demeanour. Tipuric is a canny exponent of the game's darker arts, as demonstrated by the subtle way in which he blocked France scrum-half Morgan Parra to help Tomos Williams score Wales' first try during Friday's win in Paris.

"I started off as an outside-half, as we all dream of being," Tipuric says.

"Then I moved my way up - one year I was even playing hooker.

"I was number eight and six from about 16-years-old and started transferring to seven afterwards because they said I wasn't tall enough."

Justin Tipuric playing sevens in 2009
Justin Tipuric is no stranger to the sevens circuit, his most recent appearance for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

At 6ft 2in, Tipuric is not exactly short, and that move to open-side has helped him play 59 matches for Wales and one Test for the Lions.

That tally is all the more impressive when you consider he often had to compete with former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton for a starting place, with Wales eventually finding a way of accommodating both in their back row.

Having been forced to retire because of injury last summer, Warburton is now forging a promising career for himself as a television pundit.

And while he too is self-effacing by nature, Warburton's prominence in public life - whether that is media work, sponsorship or commercial events - is in stark contrast to the low profile Tipuric seeks.

As a child, Tipuric played a host of sports - "football, golf cricket, tennis, volleyball, even boules," he says - but decided to concentrate on rugby at a young age.

He joined his local club, Trebanos, a village in the Swansea Valley, and he never left.

Even having been a professional player for the Ospreys for a decade, Tipuric still coaches Trebanos' youth team once a week.

Barbarians player Justin Tipuric
Justin Tipuric played in the Barbarians side which beat England 63-45 at Twickenham in May 2018

"For the last few years at Trebanos, we didn't have a youth team and I was doing the firsts before that and it was tough because we were coming up the leagues and we didn't have anyone coming through," he says.

"We tried to get a youth team going, and another reason was my brother Joseph was playing as well.

"He wasn't really into rugby so it was a reason to get him off his X-Box! He's 19 now but back then he was 16. We were just getting him out of the house.

"We had a team for a few years, it's a good laugh and we're in our fourth year now."

Trebanos' blue shirts inspired Tipuric's choice of colour for his scrumcap, which he wears whoever he is playing for.

And while Tipuric may want to go unnoticed at times, his trademark blue headwear and prominent displays are bound to make him stand out during this Six Nations.

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