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Wales star Wainwright back on the football front for Judgement Day

30 May 2024 4 minute read
Aaron Wainwright of the Dragons. Photo ©INPHO/Ashley Crowden

Simon Thomas

Judgement Day will see Aaron Wainwright return to the ground which could have been his home had his sporting career taken a different turn.

From the age of 10 to 15, he was part of the Cardiff City Academy, with another Aaron – Ramsey – the player he admired most there, while Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira was his football idol.

But when he was released by the club, that saw him switch his focus, a sliding doors moment which has been very much rugby’s gain, with the 48-times capped back row forward becoming a mainstay of the Wales team.

Now he heads back to the Cardiff City Stadium with Dragons RFC for an end-of-season BKT URC derby clash with the Scarlets this coming Saturday afternoon.

Midfielder

Reflecting on his soccer days, he says: “I was a centre midfielder and then I went and played centre back.

“Aaron Ramsey was someone I really looked up to at the club, while my idol was Patrick Vieira.

“I had a couple of team photos at the stadium and we did the odd training day there.

“When we were sharing the Academy buildings, we were surrounded by some of the older players and the age-grades above.

“You would see how they carried themselves and it was a bit of an eye opener, just the routine of how to be a professional.

“That’s what they tried to drill into us from an early age. A massive part of it was we did a day release scheme, so one day a week you would not go to school and just come and train throughout the day.

“That was a big eye opener in terms of what there is outside of school and what is needed to succeed in a competitive, professional environment.”

Growth spurt

No 8 Wainwright is now a strapping 6ft 3ins and 16st 9lbs, but he had a very different build during his football years.

“I was tiny,” he recalls.

“Then I had such a big growth spurt and I didn’t play for a while, the typical injury story.

“I think that’s part of the reason I got released.

“It came at a good time because it gave me a chance to really get stuck into my school work and then I went on and started playing rugby.”

As for whether he visits the stadium to watch Cardiff City, he replies: “I came to watch the Leicester game a few weeks ago, but I am an Arsenal fan!”

It’s been a really busy season for Wainwright who has played some of the best rugby of his career over the past ten months.

Work-load

He has started 11 of Wales’ last 13 matches, including all five in the Six Nations, while it will be his 14th game of the campaign for the Dragons this weekend.

But you won’t hear him complaining about his work-load.

“I have played a lot of rugby this season and really enjoyed it,” says the Newport-born 26-year-old.

“I just love playing. If I don’t play, I am really frustrated. For me to keep performing well, I need to keep playing and keep having game-time.

“I think I have had a good season.

“I felt I did ok in the Six Nations. I appreciated how much game-time I had there and enjoyed going out playing those games, even though the results weren’t what we wanted.”

Turning his attention to Judgement Day, he says: “It’s always a tough battle against the Scarlets and one I look forward to and enjoy.

“We want to finish the season on a high. That would be massive and that’s what we are aiming for.”


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