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Meet the rookie tipped as a future Wales captain

17 Dec 2022 10 minute read
Dewi Lake picture by Mike Egerton / PA Wire

Simon Thomas

Being tipped as a future Wales captain by no less a figure than Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies is some accolade, especially when you have only started one game for your country.

Yet that’s precisely the position Dewi Lake found himself in earlier this year.

It’s been some 12 months for the Ospreys hooker, a real rugby rollercoaster ride of highs and lows.

There was a first Wales cap, a first Test start, a first try, the heartbreak of a last-gasp loss to the Springboks in Pretoria, followed by the elation of victory in Bloemfontein a week later.

Then, come the new season, there was the disappointment and frustration of a shoulder injury which was to rule him out of the autumn internationals.

Happily, he is now recovered and set to return to action during the festive URC derbies, which begin with a visit from Ken Owens’ Scarlets on Boxing Day.

Leadership

So, a fitting moment to reflect on a highly eventful 2022, starting with that headline-grabbing prediction from Jiffy which came after Lake’s try-scoring super-sub display against the ‘Boks at Loftus Versfeld in July.

“It was lovely to hear and especially from such a Welsh rugby great,” says the Bridgend-born 23-year-old.
“What he says carries a lot of weight with a lot of people who respect him and remember him for the player he was and what he did in the Welsh jersey.

“But, for me, it was never a case of ‘I am going to make sure people see I am a leader’. It was more a case of I’m going to play my game and do what I do.

“That leadership aspect is just part of my game. It’s not something I go out on the pitch and try to do. It just happens. It’s not something I force or don’t force.

“Of course, I would love to captain Wales one day, I think anyone would. You would be silly to say no. But it’s not going to change how I go about what I do. I’m not now thinking ‘Right, I’ve got to do everything to captain Wales’.

“If it happens, it happens, but there are lots of steps to it. Just putting on the jersey is enough. Wearing that red jersey is something you grow up dreaming about.

“So it’s not something you need to rush. But it’s always nice to hear stuff like that from people who are greats of the game and do carry a lot of respect and weight.”

Dewi Lake in action for Wales. Photo David Davies PA Images

Lake does already have experience of captaining his country, having skippered Wales U20s, guiding them to a famous victory over New Zealand at the 2019 World Rugby Championship in Argentina.

Along with his obvious talent and his leadership, what was also immediately evident back then was just how comfortable he was talking to the media and that has continued to come to the fore as he has made his way into the senior international ranks.

It was demonstrated once more by the ease and eloquence he showed in representing the Ospreys at the launch of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

So where does that confidence in front of the camera and the microphone come from?

“It’s just something I’ve always been comfortable with doing and as you do it more you get more and more comfortable with it,” he replies.

“You can be bad at it the first couple of times, then learn how you want to come across or how to answer more political questions and stuff like that.

“Obviously, confidence does play a part in it and that’s something that probably stems from my family background.”

Both of Lake’s parents are heavily involved in sport. His mother has been a coach and an administrator for Welsh netball and also coached him in gymnastics, a sport in which he represented Wales and Great Britain as a youngster.

Treorchy

His father David played in the back row for Treorchy in the late 1990s and has taken a key role in Dewi’s development.

“He coached most of my junior rugby. When I was with Ospreys U16s, he coached the team along with Steve Tandy.

Then he stepped out of that and coached me, almost like a one-to-one, as I moved through the age-grades.

“For him, it was never about him, it was always about me. He never really delved into what he could have done in that side of things. He was more doing it to help me out.”

So what was the dynamic of that parental rugby relationship?

“We have been at the stage where we have had arguments and tears in the car on the way home from games because we do push each other as a family,” reveals Lake.

“But there is nothing I would change about it. It’s got me to where I am today.

“In the real world, especially in this line of work, tough conversations happen. If you play poorly in an Ospreys jersey or a Wales jersey, you are not going to go into the changing room and they are going to go ‘It’s ok, good luck next week’.

“So it kind of set me up. If I do have a poor game, it’s a case of ‘Right, I know what’s coming here. This is going to be a straight chat’.

“I know they are going to tell me what I did wrong and what I need to work on and I am happy with that. Now it’s got to the point where that is what I’d expect and that’s what I want.

“Realistically, I will be my harshest critic if I think I have done poorly and, if I know I have done poorly, I would want that to be a straight conversation: ‘You weren’t good, work on this, this has to get better’. Fair enough, I know what I’ve got to go away and work on then.

“It’s about how do I get back into the jersey because there’s got to be something I can do to prove I am ready and that it was just a bad game.

“So my parents were a massive influence in every aspect of my game, on and off the field.”

Dewi Lake. Photo ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Lake started out in the same back row berth as his father, but then switched to hooker some four years ago. There was never any question over his carrying ability or his work at the breakdown, but he was now presented with a new challenge, in terms of his throwing in at the lineout.

“It’s a constant work-on for hookers, for me more than most, because it’s still relatively new to me, although it’s developed a lot in the last year and a half,” he says.

“Jamie George is famed for being one of the best at hitting his darts, but he still works on his throwing daily because if you don’t, you sort of lose the rhythm.

“It’s like a golfer’s swing. There’s that muscle memory and repetition, so then when you get to the weekend and the pressure’s on and you are tired or things aren’t going your way, it’s just like ‘I have done this before, I can do it’.

“With it being that new to me, I’ve not got as much repetition in as other people have through their careers. If you look at Ken Owens, he has been throwing for 15 years, whereas I am only on my fourth or fifth year.

“I understand the work I’ve got to do. I am looking at putting in between 30 and 50 throws a day in training.”

Highs and lows

Having recovered from an ankle injury which sidelined him for much of 2021, Lake was included in the Wales squad for this year’s Six Nations and made his debut off the bench against Ireland in Dublin. A lot has happened since then.

“It’s been a year of real highs and lows, full of ups and downs, personal positives and personal milestones, but also things you would like to forget quite sharpish, the loss at home to Italy being one.
“I made my first start in that game and scored my first international try, but how can I be positive about that when we’ve lost?

“Then there was the try in the first Test out in South Africa which got us back to drawing. That was a tough game to lose, conceding a penalty right at the end. It was a game we probably should have won.
“It’s never nice to lose, but we also put on a show and proved we were there to give the Springboks a run for their money.

“Then a week later you had the historic win in Bloemfontein. The final whistle was lovely to hear, especially after losing just before the end the week before. It was that sense of relief and we have done it, it’s not going to get snatched away from us in the last minute this time.

“When you spend so long with a group of boys, getting to know each other and going through tough times, it means so much. I had boys in that team I had grown up with, boys I have known since I was eight years old, people like Tommy Reffell.

“To then share special moments like beating the Springboks in South Africa, the first Welsh team to ever do it, is unbelievable.”

Injury

Lake returned home as one of the real success stories of the tour, but just days after being named in the squad for the autumn Tests, he suffered a shoulder injury against the Dragons, ruling him out of the whole campaign.

“The frustrating thing was, having come back from a long lay off the year before, I felt like I was getting back into my rugby again, then that happened,” he says.

“I tore both ligaments which meant the shoulder was disconnected from the bone. It was a grade three and a half tear. I was 0.5 of a grade off surgery.

“Luckily, the shoulder stayed stable enough to avoid any kind of reconstruction, which helped my timeline.

“It was obviously disappointing to miss out with Wales, but I said to myself I would rather miss the autumn internationals than do it next year and miss a World Cup.”

With the injury behind him, Lake is now ready to embark on the next leg of what has already been a pretty eventful rugby journey.


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