Meet Jack Walsh: The rugby wanderer who is loving life in Wales and the URC
From New South Wales to south Wales, via days in Devon, it’s been some rugby journey for the American-born Jack Walsh.
It’s one which has brought him to a country, a team and a league he loves, with the 23-year-old utility back having become a key figure in the Ospreys’ BKT URC campaign.
For Walsh, variety is very much the spice of life and he relishes the varying challenges thrown up by a competition that can have you playing at altitude in South Africa one week and then back home in the wind and rain the next.
Of course, he’s a young man who knows all about experiencing different environments.
He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, due to his father’s work, but both his parents are from Australia and they headed back Down Under when he was five.
So it was that Walsh grew up in Manly, a beach-side suburb north of Sydney. That saw him spending much of his youth either on the water or on the rugby pitch.
“It’s awesome down there. I did a lot of surfing when I was younger and a lot of touch rugby. It was a good place to grow up for sure,” he says.
He played his junior rugby union for Manly Marlins from the age of eight, while also trying his hand at league during his teenage years, before progressing to the Waratahs Academy as a fly-half. Then, in 2020, came the move to England and Exeter Chiefs.
“It was a big decision. I came over in the middle of Covid, so I couldn’t have any family or anything come over. I didn’t see them for almost two years,” he recalls.
“But rugby was the dream, so it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“The fact it was such a successful team, with such good players, made it an easier decision. When I got there, it was the year they won the double, so it was the perfect time as a 10 to gain experience of northern hemisphere rugby and learn the game management, the tactical kicking, which is more of a focus over here. You’ve got bigger boys and a slower sort of game, so it’s about putting the ball in the right area for the forwards. I certainly learned how to play in the wet!”
After some nine outings in his two seasons down in Devon, Walsh then opted for pastures new by joining the Ospreys in 2022.
“I had spoken to Toby Booth and liked the way they wanted to play and it appealed to me trying to play as many games as possible,” he explains.
That’s precisely what he’s done, making 25 appearances in his 18 months with the region, establishing himself as a first-team regular, either at his preferred fly-half or full-back. He’s settled in well on the pitch – showcasing his handling skills and running ability – and off it, as well.
“I love Wales. I can’t talk highly enough of the place,” he said.
“It helps going to such a good club. All the boys are awesome down here. It’s a tight knit group, so that makes it easier.
“I enjoy the fact there is lots to do around here on your days off and I am enjoying the Ospreys. I have played pretty consistently since I have been here and that’s what I wanted to do.”
The 5ft 9ins, 13st Walsh, who turns 24 this month, is also savouring the multi-national nature of the BKT URC.
“I love it, to be honest. I think it’s awesome,” he says.
“As a game driver, you’ve got to be able to play a variety of different ways. You can be playing at altitude or in dry weather where you want to be able to throw the ball around, compared to what you can have in other games over here in the wet. It’s really good for learning the different styles and ways to play the game.
“It’s nice and refreshing to be able to play in different sorts of climates, with different supporters and in different cultures. I really enjoy it.
“The Premiership in England can get quite grindy because it’s the same conditions week-in, week-out. It doesn’t matter if you are in Newcastle or down in Exeter, it’s probably going to be similar sorts of conditions.
“The variety is definitely something I love about the BKT URC as a player and, in general, just experiencing it.”
The conditions were certainly pretty unique on New Year’s Day when Walsh shared in the Ospreys’ 27-21 victory over Cardiff Rugby at Bridgend’s Brewery Field where the incessant rain created a very heavy, muddy surface underfoot.
“That was a first for me. They were conditions I wasn’t used to,” he admits.
“I knew I was going to be playing in the wet and the cold over here, but I probably hadn’t quite prepared for that. To get the win out of it was great.”
That bonus point victory, following on from the 25-11 triumph away to the Scarlets on Boxing Day, took the Ospreys up into the top half of the BKT URC table.
“The derbies are always super tough, so to be able to deliver back-to-back was awesome,” said Walsh.
“You could feel the support massively. You could really feel how loud they were and how keen they were.
“Winning those two games has given us a good bit of momentum and we want to carry that through now.”
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