Sporting switch works wonders for Cardiff’s tough tackling URC rookie
Football’s loss is proving to be rugby’s gain in the case of BKT URC top tackler Alex Mann.
He spent three years on the books of Cardiff City as a teenage centre-half before opting to focus on the oval ball rather than the round one.
That’s a decision which is paying off for both him and Cardiff Rugby.
The 21-year-old flanker has put in more tackles than anyone else in the BKT URC so far this season, with his tally of 103 being 18 more than the next best of 85 from his team-mate Seb Davies and Hollywoodbets Sharks back row James Venter.
That outstanding defensive workrate is indicative of his commitment and all-round endeavour. It’s also some stat when you consider he hadn’t played a single league match prior to this campaign. The youngster is making his mark.
Mann started out in the game at a young age with his home-town club of Aberdare RFC.
“I played for them from when I could run really,” he recalls.
“Rugby was my first love. Since I was little, I just fell in love with it. It just felt natural.
“But then I had a nasty break to my elbow, which put me off a bit.
“So I went into football and played for Cardiff City for three years with their Academy.
“I was a centre-back, I did the dirty job. I had a couple of yellow cards!
“It was good because I was in a professional environment from a young age, so I got to see what it takes week-in, week-out.
“But then I started playing rugby again at school and I just knew it was the sport for me. It just came second nature really and I was better at it than football, 110 per cent.
“I found my love of rugby again. So I knocked football on the head and thankfully I am here now.”
Mann progressed through the Cardiff Rugby set-up, with his talent being recognised by international honours at U18s and U19s level, followed by him being handed the captaincy of Wales U20s in 2021.
In December of that year, he made his regional debut as a replacement in a Champions Cup clash with Harlequins, but then had to bide his time, playing his rugby for the Cardiff RFC Premiership side.
However, this season, his chance has come and he’s grabbed it, with his form earning him starts in all but one of the seven rounds of BKT URC fixtures.
He name checks Peter O’Mahony, Alun Wyn Jones and Arms Park team-mate Taulupe Faletau as his role models and you can see how he has taken inspiration from all three in terms of his combative nature, dedication, non-stop graft and footwork. They are qualities that have shone brightly during this breakthrough campaign.
“In my head, I’ve thought about this for a while now,” he says.
“So, when the opportunity came, all I wanted to do was take it and give everything I’ve got.
“It’s been really good and I’m really enjoying it. That’s what you want as a player is to get some game time and I’ve been pretty fortunate I’ve had a good run of games, so I am really pleased.
“I believe everything happens for a reason and opportunities come. It’s just about taking them, making sure I am ready come game day and giving 100 per cent, everything I’ve got. As soon as you take your foot off the pedal, that’s when other people come in.
“I enjoy proving myself, especially to the boys, proving that I’m good enough and that I can do the job.
“I try to base myself on working really hard and then I just look for opportunities, whether that comes at the breakdown or defensively, while in attack I feel I can add that little bit different.
“I accept I am not as big as the other boys, so it’s about using my footwork to give myself a point of difference.”
Then there’s that tackle stat. On that score, the 6ft 3ins, 15st Mann is quick to acknowledge how much he is gaining from playing under Cardiff defence coach Gethin Jenkins, the former Wales prop.
“I was with Gethin through the Academy. He was the first one who actually signed me, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him and I’ll do everything I can to make him happy,” he said.
“I want to defend. I want to put my body on the line.
“He has worked really hard with us and he’s been working on stuff with me. Anything he sees, he tells me
“With him, you know you’ve got to be on it. That’s good for defence, that’s what you want.”
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