Wales captain Joe Hawkins ready to bring physicality to South Africa

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Under 20 Six Nations Summer Series Round 2 Pool B, Stadio di Monigo, Italy 30/6/2022 Wales vs Georgia Georgia’s Tornike Kakhoidze and Joe Hawkins of Wales Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie (©INPHO/James Crombie)
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WALES captain Joe Hawkins is ready to bring back the collisions he learnt playing rugby league in his youth to combat South Africa’s physicality in the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series Final writes Josh Graham.

The Ospreys centre’s first love was union but he has a soft spot for the 13-a-side game having played for West Wales Raiders during the summers he spent growing up and idolising cross-code phenomenon Sonny Bill Williams.

Hawkins, 20, believes that experience helped improve his intensity in contact and after booking his side’s place in Tuesday night’s showpiece in Treviso with a monster penalty to beat Italy in Round 3, has urged his teammates to empty the tank against the Baby Boks as they may never represent their country again.

“I enjoyed how simple league was, no rucks and no mess. You were tackled and you just play away,” said Hawkins, who got his first taste of international action with the Under-20s aged just 17 in 2020 before Covid struck.

“It helped me with my physicality a bit as well, some of the big tackles and big runners - you’ve got to be physical to play it and that has definitely transferred over to my union stuff.

“I used to play stand-off in league, so it definitely helped with taking the ball to the line and I also played outside-half all through my junior rugby until I went into the Ospreys, so I’ve always been comfortable stepping in at first receiver.

“You never know what is going to happen in the future. For some people it could be the last time they ever play for Wales, if you don’t go on and play for the senior team.

“We’ve spoken about leaving it all on the pitch as it could be the last time you wear the jersey. It has been three years now in the 20s and it’s my last game.

“It has been a hell of an experience doing all that, so it will be a bit emotional moving on but it is exciting as well to put the age grade stuff behind and look forward to the senior stuff.”

Hawkins’ effort off the tee against the host nation drew comparisons with Wales legend Gavin Henson - whose own brief foray into league also came with the Raiders last year - but it is his connection with clubmate Gareth Anscombe that is most interesting.

The two do extra sessions together after training in Swansea and the senior pro - back playing for Wales after two years on the sidelines with a serious knee injury - mirrored his young charge by kicking a touchline conversion at the death to help Wales beat South Africa 13-12 in Saturday’s second Test.

And now Hawkins is the one bidding to follow suit by overcoming the same opposition to get a taste of silverware which would mark a remarkable turnaround from a Six Nations Under-20s campaign that saw Wales finish a disappointing fifth with a sole victory over Scotland.

He explained: “I know Anscombe pretty well from back at the Ospreys. I knew he was going to kick it, I had confidence in him and I was saying to the boys, ‘Easy, he’ll kick this’.

“That’s why you practice in the week, so when you get into those pressure moments you know you can deliver.

“Me and him always get our extras done together after training. He plays 10 and I play 12, so we are close on the field if we are training together.

“All of us watched it in the team room, it was a hell of a win. I think it was the first time Wales’ men have beaten South Africa in South Africa, so chuffed for them.

“It gives us boys the motivation to go out and do the same on Tuesday.

“We spoke about the fact that this is probably the first final a lot of boys have ever played in and could be the last - not many players get to play in finals throughout their career.

“So having that winning feeling from a final is definitely something we don’t want to miss out on and seeing the senior team beat South Africa gives you that little boost of confidence to go and do the same thing.”

The Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series takes place from 24 June – 12 July. Fans can watch every match live. For more information visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJHm6BFw-9JRA1CMekNLwMg

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