Shane Lewis-Hughes: Introducing Wales debutant and Alun Wyn Jones 'clone'

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Shane Lewis-Hughes
Shane Lewis-Hughes has made 43 tackles and won four turnovers in two Pro14 matches for Cardiff Blues this season
2020 Six Nations: Wales v Scotland
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli Date: Saturday, 31 October Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC TV, S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Sport website and app

For a young forward trying to establish himself in the Wales squad, compliments do not come much bigger than the one head coach Wayne Pivac paid to Shane Lewis-Hughes.

After announcing the 23-year-old blind-side flanker would make his Wales debut by starting in Saturday's Six Nations match against Scotland, Pivac quoted his record-breaking captain.

"In the words of Alun Wyn Jones, he said 'I've been waiting 15 years for someone like Shane to come along'. It's pretty high praise coming from our captain," said Pivac.

"If you look at Alun Wyn in terms of his preparation, the way he trains, and the way he reviews and previews his opposition, Shane Lewis-Hughes is a clone.

"He's been leaving the team room at 9.30 to 10pm each night. He's doing his homework and everything Alun Wyn Jones does.

"He's taken him on as a bit of a project. He's a young man so let's not put too much pressure on him for this weekend, but he's got some good raw ingredients, he's a tough bugger, and he throws himself about at training.

"He's willing to learn and he's very coachable."

As Pivac suggests, it would be wise not to expect too much of Lewis-Hughes, still a burgeoning talent making his way in the game.

However, any Welsh rugby fan would be excited to read the coach and captain's glowing appraisal of the Cardiff Blues forward.

Pivac and Jones know what they are doing - and they know who they are dealing with.

If they were worried such praise would go to the young man's head, they would not be talking this way, but they are speaking freely because they believe Lewis-Hughes has the temperament to take it in his stride.

"It's obviously nice to get comments like that off those people, but it means nothing unless you perform," Lewis-Hughes says of compliments from Jones, Pivac and, among others, former Wales captain Sam Warburton.

"I don't really like to pay too much attention to that without being disrespectful. It is brilliant and does mean a lot, but I've got a job to do on Saturday to go out there and perform.

"Unless I do that, it means nothing."

Physical, driven, 'obsessed'

You only need to spend a minute in Lewis-Hughes' company to be struck by his single-minded determination to succeed.

His Cardiff Blues team-mates have nicknamed him 'Crazy' because of his prodigious work ethic, while he describes himself in his Twitter biography as "obsessed to be the best".

"It effectively means trying to be the best version of yourself every single day," Lewis-Hughes explains.

"That's a mindset I've had for as long as I can remember. Whatever I commit to, I want to be the bloody best at it.

"It's something I've always had in me and when I started playing rugby, I knew I could bring out the best version of myself in rugby."

Born and raised in the Rhondda, Lewis-Hughes started playing the sport as a seven-year-old with local club Ferndale.

It was with Rhondda Under-15s where he truly found his appetite for hard graft, training three times a week and working on "fitness at the end, until you were spewing".

That was under the watch of coach Chris Jones, a notorious and now reformed former Treorchy and Wales youth player who used to carry an axe in his kit bag.external-link

"He just instilled that hard edge, the basic foundations in you to play rugby," says Lewis-Hughes.

"That has stayed in me since. That is the advantage it gives me, that mental edge when I go out and play. I would never get to this point now if it wasn't for him."

Shane Lewis-Hughes (right) beats Alun Wyn Jones to a line-out ball
Shane Lewis-Hughes (right) beats Alun Wyn Jones to a line-out ball as Cardiff Blues face Ospreys

That "edge" is evident in the way Lewis-Hughes plays - a prolific tackler and powerful carrier with an insatiable appetite for work around the field.

Wales lacked physicality during last Saturday's defeat in France, and the 2016 Under-20 Grand Slam winner hopes he can help address that deficiency.

"It's probably the most natural part of my game," says Lewis-Hughes.

"It's the other stuff I have had to work on. The physical part is something I love.

"It's the bread and butter of a flanker - getting your head in places they shouldn't be and what-have-you.

"It's something I love so if that's what they want me to bring it's something I'm looking forward to."

Having put that abrasive quality to good use with Cardiff Blues, Lewis-Hughes will aim to do the same for Wales on Saturday when he embarks on his senior international career.

And in Jones, who will make a world-record 149th Test appearance against Scotland, he will have a captain setting the ultimate example.

"It's been amazing to see how he operates," says Lewis-Hughes.

"In the gym we have been going hammer and tongs at each other - we both came out the other day and were exhausted before going into a rugby session. We said 'I think we pushed each other a bit too hard there butt!'

"It was only a couple of years ago I was watching him on the telly back in school!

"It's been great just to be around him, see how he operates, his preparation, his focus. It's inspiring. The focus he has is absolutely incredible.

"It makes me realise I am normal - to have the focus I've got to be the best I can be."