Wales newcomer Jake Ball insists there will be no family conflict tomorrow despite choosing to play for the Land of his Father.
The bearded lock could easily have been pulling on the red rose rather than the three feathers at Twickenham. He was born just 15 miles from English rugby’s HQ in Ascot to an English mother and cut his rugby teeth at Camberley RFC before the family emigrated to Australia when he was 17.
Yet the influence and hwyl – Welsh for “fervour” – of his father, who hails from the small north Wales town of Pwllheli, proved too strong to resist.
Dave Ball played second row for the British Army, London Welsh and Harlequins but it will be his 22-year-old son who fulfils the ambition to wear the red jersey, fully supported by his mother.
“It was always my dad’s dream to play for Wales so he is so pleased I’ve managed to do it,” Ball said yesterday. “My mum is from Ascot but she will be supporting Wales on Sunday because I’m playing. There’s no doubt about that.”
His selection is proving good news for his house in Llanelli as well. “My dad came over from Perth, Australia, to stay with me for a couple of weeks when I was named in the squad to play Ireland and now I can’t get rid of him,” Ball said. “The good thing is that he’s built some decking in the back of my house and now he’s on the guttering. I’m keeping him busy.”
Ball comes into the Welsh line-up in place of Luke Charteris, who was forced to pull out of facing England with a neck injury yesterday. And the England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, admitted that the lock, who went to school in Woking, was one that slipped through the net.
At 6ft 7in and 19 stone, Ball will provide an extra punch to a Welsh pack already boasting seven British & Irish Lions. It is hard to believe he was released by the Australian club side Western Force for being too small, when he was spotted by former Wales head coach Gareth Jenkins, now head of recruitment at the Scarlets, in 2012.
“I was involved in Western Australia Under-19 cricket and then realised that cricket wasn’t the career path I wanted to go down so I switched back to rugby,” Ball said. “But I was only 95kg [15st] when I was turning 18 years old and the Force said I wasn’t heavy enough. They told me to go put some weight on and that’s what I did.
“I was in the gym every day, drinking two litres of milk in the morning and eating as much protein as I could. I guess it worked.”
Ball certainly fits the mould approved by Wales coach Warren Gatland: hard-working, powerful and willing to roll up his sleeves and muck in. But for all the undoubted boost the new man’s appearance will provide the likes of Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins in the scrum, Wales will miss the 6ft 9in beanpole Charteris in equal measure at the lineout.
Given the aerial threat posed by Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, Wales have not only lost a facet of the game, but a platform from which to launch the likes of Jamie Roberts and George North, as happened to such disastrous effect in Ireland.
Rob Howley, the Wales assistant head coach, said: “Given Luke’s height, of course you’re going to miss him, but Jake was outstanding against two experienced French locks last time out. Our lineout functioned well and our props will certainly be happy that he’s behind them in the scrum.”
Ball will be surrounded by Lions, including Jenkins, who will equal Stephen Jones’s tally as Wales’s most-capped international with his 104th Test. “Gethin is a grumpy so-and-so but also one of the best props ever to play international rugby,” said Howley. “He has the sort of big-game experience that could prove decisive at Twickenham.”
Former scrum-half Howley is wary of the threat posed by Danny Care and the English desire for revenge. But he added: “Every team has their motivation. Ours is stay in the championship and become the first team in 100 years to win three titles in a row.”
The great rivalry: Five watershed Twickenham contests
England 9 Wales 8
This brutal game symbolised the modern-day antagonism between the two nations. Margaret Thatcher’s industrial policies provided a toxic backdrop and the visitors were riled by what they saw as England’s superiority complex . Wales scored the only tries, but with Paul Ringer dismissed for dangerous tackling, they fell to Dusty Hare’s nerveless goal-kicking.
England 3 Wales 11
A match that came close to proving the theory that Wales possess the artists and England the artisans. The visitors boasted some rich attacking talent and again, they cornered the try-scoring market. When England kicked a late penalty, simply to register a presence on the scoreboard, Jonathan Davies almost fell over laughing.
England 34 Wales 6
This commanding performance provided the first indication that England might make a proper fist of the World Cup scheduled for the following year. They scored four tries, two of them through Rory Underwood, in a record- busting display, the breadth and tempo of their rugby lifting the red rose attacking game to new heights.
England 46 Wales 12
England climbed even higher a decade later as Brian Ashton’s influence as an attack strategist began to bear fruit. They ran in five tries, playing some breathtaking stuff in the process. The Welsh Rugby Union’s own report referred to an England side of “immense quality”. Crikey, they MUST have been good.
England 19 Wales 26
If 2000 was a staging post on the road to the world title, this second-half capitulation signposted the decline of some fine players, Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Gomarsall included. Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips scored tries as Wales came from miles behind to claim a first Twickenham victory in 20 years.