Support our Nation today - please donate here
Sport

Willie le Roux fan Cam Winnett hoping to emulate hero in first Wales start

02 Feb 2024 5 minute read
Cam Winnett

Simon Thomas

Prior to this season, Cam Winnett had made just three starts for Cardiff Rugby.

Now he is about to make his Wales debut in Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland.

It’s been some breakthrough for the 21-year-old full-back from the Rhondda, who picks out Springbok great Willie le Roux as his role model.

He has been a regular starter for Cardiff this term and, as head coach Matt Sherratt rightly says, he has barely put a foot wrong.

With Liam Williams having moved to Japan and Matthew Morgan retiring, a vacancy was created at No 15 at the Arms Park and Winnett has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.

Stylish

He has been assured under the high ball, resolute in defence and has consistently looked to challenge the line, offering a stylish counter-attacking threat, while also having a creative kicking string to his bow. Above all, he has been poise personified.

Cardiff RFC coach Steve Law spoke towards the end of last season about God having given Winnett a skill and there’s certainly no questioning his natural ability.

To that, he has added application, focus and a consistent end product, as Sherratt confirms rhetorically.

“How good has he been?” asks the boss.

“He just slots in. Very low fuss, just gets on with it. That’s his character. He’s like that all week. He has been excellent.”

It’s also informative to hear the views of a back three colleague, in the shape of wing Mason Grady, who will be on the bench against Scotland.

“Cam has been playing some really good stuff,” said Grady.

“He’s come a long way from last season. He’s always had it in attack, but I think he worked hard in pre-season, his high ball stuff, his defensive stuff. It’s really good to see.”

Having made 17 appearances for Wales at U20s level, Winnett will now take his senior bow at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

‘Awesome’

No less a judge than Sam Warburton had tipped him to make the Six Nations squad, issuing plaudits such as “amazing”, “exciting” and “awesome”.

The former Wales and Lions skipper added: “He’s a lovely balanced runner, with a great left foot step, and he has time. You get these players who have time, they just don’t panic. He’s got a good kicking game, he’s good under the high ball and he’s got back-field understanding. He’s just such a natural rugby player.”

Praise indeed!

Warburton’s squad prediction proved spot on and now the youngster has got the starting nod from Warren Gatland.

Wattstown

Hailing from Wattstown – the same as Wales replacement prop Keiron Assiratti – Winnett attended Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Llwyncelyn and Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhondda, both in Porth, going on to Coleg y Cymoedd.

On the rugby front, he played for Treorchy RFC up until Youth, while also representing Rhondda Schools, playing under Chris Jones and Neil Boobyer.

Reflecting on his time as part of that double act’s prolific production line, he says: “They worked us hard on the pitch, with fitness every session. It was brutal, but it was good.”

Winnett then progressed through the regional age-grade system and got his first taste of senior rugby with Cardiff RFC in the Welsh Premiership in October 2021.

Just a couple of months later, aged only 18, he found himself starting a Champions Cup match against Harlequins at The Stoop, with the bulk of the first-team squad stranded in South Africa due to Covid pandemic travel restrictions.

He marked the occasion with a try after just five minutes, with the whole experience being like some kind of unreal dream, to use his own words.

He had to bide his time then for the next 18 months, while playing his rugby for Cardiff RFC and Wales U20s, but now he’s a regional regular.

So what’s his focus been as he’s slotted in at that level?

Basics

“I’ve just been trying to work on the basics, the high ball stuff and my defence in the back-field,” he replies.

“I’ve been keeping on top of them in training, constantly doing my extras. If you do the basics first in a game, the rest will come.

“I’ve taken the experience and the learnings I gained with Cardiff RFC and Wales U20s into this season and I’ve learned a lot from the senior boys in training. I just try and take that into the matches.

“I take it game by game and try and keep on top of things and keep on performing.”

As for his role models, well, there are a couple of expected names, plus one intriguing one.

“Obviously I grew up watching Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny,” says the 5ft 11ns, 13st 5lbs full-back.

“But Willie le Roux is the one who stood out to me most. I love the way he plays.

“He’s got both sides. He’s really good on attack and he can ball play as well, he can create stuff. That’s what I like.”


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.