Cross-code star Regan Grace could be Wales' World Cup bolter - if England don't get there first

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Cross-code star Regan Grace could be Wales' World Cup bolter - if England don't get there first - GETTY IMAGES
Cross-code star Regan Grace could be Wales' World Cup bolter - if England don't get there first - GETTY IMAGES

The eyes of both Wales and England's coaching staffs will be trained on Paris next season to see how cross-code try-scorer Regan Grace fares in rugby union, with the 25-year-old from Port Talbot having drawn comparisons to Jason Robinson and Chris Ashton.

Super League giants St Helens announced on Tuesday that Grace will leave the club at the end of the season to join Racing 92 in the Top 14, Grace's first move into rugby union after he scored an impressive 86 tries in 138 appearances in the north-west.

Born in Wales, Grace also qualifies to play for England through his father. His finishing ability convinced Racing 92 to recruit the 5ft 10in, 12-and-a-half stone wing, who grew up playing both union and league in Wales and was once part of the Ospreys youth set-up.

Grace in the past has stated that his favourite player growing up was Robinson, who after several successful years with Wigan crossed codes to win the 2003 Rugby World Cup with England and went on to captain his country.

“When I was younger, my dream was to play union for Wales and I’d love to do it one day," Grace told The Times last year. "It would be amazing to play at the top level in both codes and I’m sure I could do it. I look at what Jason Robinson achieved and it’s inspiring.”

The defending Super League champions confirmed that they had intended to keep Grace, but a new challenge beckons.

Press play on a Regan Grace highlight reel and you can see why Racing 92 have decided to open the cheque book. Exceptional acceleration and pace, quick feet and of course, a string of athletic finishes make him an attractive signing.

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Crossing codes was always a possibility for Grace, who recalled in his excellent interview with The Times how he was visited growing up by none other than the late, great Jonah Lomu, with their conversation unsurprisingly staying with Grace as he climbed the professional ranks in rugby league.

Questions will be raised regarding his size but if Cheslin Kolbe can thrive at 5ft 7in and a similar weight, then why shouldn't Grace once he has readjusted to rugby union's intricate breakdown requirements?

The move to France is fascinating for a few reasons. First of all, Racing's La Defense Arena is a venue ready-made for Grace to thrive in, a concert venue which happens to have a rugby pitch in the middle.

He is also joining an elite squad. There are few better wingers to learn from than Argentina's Juan Imhoff, and the opportunity to be part of a backline including Finn Russell, Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa, plus France's next wave of stars in scrum-half Nolann le Garrec and full-back Max Spring, holds plenty of appeal.

But it is almost more interesting to contemplate what his next move will be after Grace's time in Paris comes to an end.

Regan Grace has scored 86 tries in 138 appearances for St Helens - GETTY IMAGES
Regan Grace has scored 86 tries in 138 appearances for St Helens - GETTY IMAGES

If moving to union is a success, then each of the Welsh regions will be desperate to bring him back to Wales, as will head coach Wayne Pivac. Given Grace has spoken about dreaming of playing for Wales and has represented the country in rugby league, if he is going to play Test rugby then it feels more likely he will be wearing red than white.

Not that England wouldn't try their best to bring Grace to the Gallagher Premiership if he proves to be a phenomenal success in the Top 14 and Champions Cup.

Grace could technically be picked for Wales immediately in time for the Rugby World Cup next year, but would then have to sign for a Welsh region once his contract with Racing expired in order to keep playing for Wales under the 60-cap rule. Grace however would not be eligible to play for England unless he moved to the Gallagher Premiership.

If the move to union doesn't work out then St Helens would be more than happy to bring Grace home.

It has been a while since a new British cross-code convert proved to be a big hit - although Ben Te'o technically fits into that category - while Semi Radradra and Marika Koroibete are both recent success stories elsewhere and all eyes in New Zealand are currently on Roger Tuisava-Sheck.

Robinson is an incredibly high bar to match, so expectations of Grace should be kept realistic. But, his move is arguably the most interesting transfer of the season.

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