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Former coach’s joy as his valleys boys are picked for Wales

03 Aug 2023 8 minute read
Corey Domachowski and Keiron Assiratti featured together for the Dewar Shield winning Rhondda Schools side of 2011/12

Simon Thomas

New Wales prop Corey Domachowski certainly hasn’t forgotten his roots.

He proved as much on the very morning it was announced he was going to win his first cap against England this weekend.

His former Rhondda Schools coach Chris Jones – who also mentored fellow propping Test debutant Keiron Assiratti – takes up the story.

“I arrived at the school in Cymer for a training session and as I got out of my car, the guys were saying ‘Have you heard that Corey and Azza have been picked?’

“I didn’t know anything until I got there. It was a fantastic surprise.

“I was hoping against hope they would be picked together, so it was great news.

“Then I went up onto the field – and it is a climb in Cymer to get up there.

“As I got onto the field, I saw that Corey was up there. So it was a double surprise for me, a brilliant surprise. I had no idea he was going to be there.

“It was so timely that he came up. It was absolutely great to see him there. It was fantastic.

“The ex Rhondda players do come back. Sometimes they coach. Just the fact that they appear there is inspiration for the young kids.

“Corey was on the side of the field and he was standing back a bit. Typical Rhondda, he didn’t want to sort of show off, but I called him onto the field and he came and chatted to the boys. He was telling us all about how hard the training has been.

“All the boys applauded him. It was the little guys, the U11s, but they all recognised the achievement. To play for Wales is huge and to do it from the Rhondda, fantastic.

“We said to the boys ‘You can come from Gilfach or you can come from Wattstown or Treorchy or wherever and make it.’

“It’s down to hard work and it’s a case of who is going to be the next one.”

Corey Domachowski

So what are Jones’ memories of coaching Domachowski and fellow new Wales cap Assiratti, who were both part of the Rhondda Schools side that won the Dewar Shield in 2012, beating Cardiff Schools 12-10 in the final of the U16s tournament at the then Millennium Stadium.

“Those two? Man alive!” replies the former Pontypridd and Treorchy coach.

“Corey thought he was a centre and then he thought he was a No 8. Eventually he accepted he was a bit big and heavy for those positions and decided to play prop.

“Then Keiron, what a character he is!

“Shall we say he was a naughty boy and he won’t mind me saying that. I never had any problems with him at all, but the teachers couldn’t wait to get him out of the lessons to come to rugby with me!

“He was a naughty little chap, but he was also one of the most talented rugby players I have coached. His natural skills were fantastic. He was a front row forward who could kick off either foot and pass off either hand. He was a tremendously talented boy.”

Assiratti is a product of Wattstown RFC, while fellow Cardiff Rugby prop Domachowski started out with Gilfach Goch RFC. They then both came under Jones’ wing in the Schools system when they were around 10 or 11.

“We had them with us for about four or five years. The two of them are great characters, real good Rhondda boys. I think the world of them,” he said.

“They are tough boys. They don’t take any prisoners.

“They are great characters, great fun, but they also have a bit of Rhondda steel in them as well.

“They are great role models and great examples of what can be achieved by hard work and I am sure they will inspire the next generation of Rhondda boys.

“That’s the challenge we are offering all the boys when they come to training. Who is going to be the next Keiron and who is going to be the next Corey?

“The Rhondda is so proud of them and we will all be supporting them on Saturday.

“I am just so pleased for them because they haven’t done it the easy way. They have had to really work hard for it and visit some dark places physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Both new Wales props – each of them aged 26 – have back stories with a difference.

A few years ago, Domachowski learned his Polish great-grandfather had survived the horrors of Auschwitz during World War Two.

Stefan Domachowski escaped from the death camp and eventually moved to Wales, settling in Pencoed and working as a miner.

Outlining how he became aware of this incredible tale, Corey said: “There was a piece being done on me for a match programme as I was on the front cover.

“I was asked about my surname and my heritage, so I spoke to my grandparents to see if they had any stories to share with me.

“That’s when my nan told me my great-grandfather had escaped from Auschwitz. I thought she was pulling my leg, so I asked my grandad about it and he opened it all out to me.”

Domachowski discovered Stefan had grown up in Myslowice in southern Poland and was part of the Polish Army in WWII before being captured and sent to Auschwitz. He was one of 196 prisoners to successfully escape the horrors of the camp.

After moving to Wales, he enlisted in the Polish Armed Forces in the West and went on to to work in the mines in Ogmore Vale.

It’s a story Corey takes great inspiration from.

“He came over here looking for work, as many did,” he said.

“He managed to get into the mines and ended up settling and meeting my great-grandmother. It’s a crazy story. It was quite remarkable really, an eye-opener.

“I wasn’t born when he was alive, but it was amazing to hear the story. It’s been a great inspiration for me.”

Growing up in Gilfach Goch, Corey was initially focused on football before taking up rugby at the local club through his friends.

Having settled on loosehead prop, he steadily progressed through Rhondda Schools and the regional Academy. He made his Cardiff Rugby debut against Glasgow aged 19 in 2016 and now has more than 100 appearances to his name.


In the case of tighthead Assiratti, the recent turnaround in his career has been startling.

He made his regional debut in January 2017 against Sale in the Anglo Welsh Cup, starting alongside Domachowski.

Like his fellow prop from the Rhondda, he was capped by Wales at U20s level and established himself within the senior squad at the Arms Park.

However, in the period from 2020 to 2022, he found first team opportunities limited, with much of his game-time coming with the Cardiff club side in the Premiership.

But then, during the second half of last season, opportunity knocked again and he grabbed his chance with both hands.

He re-established himself as a regular in the regional match-day squad, much of the time packing down alongside Domachowski in a highly effective partnership.

Keiron Assiratti in action for the Under 20s. Photo WRU

Assiratti, who now has 64 regional appearances, has been speaking ahead of his impending Test debut against England.

He said: “As a little boy, you always want to play for Wales. You see all the other people who have done it and you just think ‘One day, I hope I can do that’.

“It’s been a really tough camp, it’s been really intense. I feel probably the fittest I have ever felt. I have really enjoyed it.”

Now both he and Domachowski can look forward to the biggest day of their careers as they prepare to take their double act onto the international stage.

It is just the third time in the past 75 years where both starting Wales props will be making their Test debuts.

The other two instances were legendary Pontypool duo Charlie Faulkner and Graham Price against France in Paris in January 1975 and then Staff Jones and Cardiff’s Ian Eidman away to Scotland in February 1983. Both games resulted in Welsh victories.

Domachowski and Assiratti will be joined in the 23 to face England by another former Rhondda Schools player in replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams, their Cardiff team-mate.

Other products of the Rhondda Schools system who have gone on to play for Wales include Matthew Rees, Andrew Bishop, Lou Reed, Rhys Gill, Morgan Stoddart, WillGriff John, Shane Lewis-Hughes

This Saturday’s fixture at the Principality Stadium is the first of three warm-up matches for Wales ahead of the World Cup in France, with further fixtures away to England and home to South Africa to follow.

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