Wales vs Australia: Jake Ball ready to pick up the pace for Wales

 

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The Independent Online

Had Jake Ball chosen otherwise, he could have been charging in for either side from the Cathedral Road End at Cardiff’s Swalec Stadium for the opening Test of next summer’s Ashes.

With a bushy beard that would not be out of place in Game of Thrones, there is no denying the 6ft 6in, 19st lock would make a fearsome force running in with red ball in hand. After all, he likens his bowling style to that of former Australia great Jeff Thomson and was clocked at 82mph as an 18-year-old.

Instead, the once budding cricketer opted for the red of Wales, the land of his father, and a burgeoning international rugby career that will take a fresh twist when he starts on Saturday against Australia, a country where he lived for five years from the age of 16.

Not one to sledge, Ball, who was English-born just 15 miles away from Twickenham, says: “I was more of a quiet, angry man. I was a bit over the top when playing cricket, I didn’t like getting nicked over the slips and that, but I tried to keep my cool.”

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Ball selected Wales ahead of Australia

The Wallabies would do well to beware the quiet man, who turned his back on cricket despite protestations from the former Australian batsman Geoff Marsh at his academy, to pursue his other sporting love – rugby.

The decision was simple, the lure of the oval ball being “the aggressive side of the game”. He admits to missing bowling but “I hated standing in the field and I was a tail-end batsman so I spent quite a lot of time sitting around”.

There is a sense that Ball is going places fast. Previously he has been selected when players were injured, the understudy for Alun Wyn Jones, with whom he plays on Saturday, against France in the Six Nations and again a capable stand-in when Luke Charteris missed the subsequent England game.

There is an argument this time that, even with Charteris not available for selection, Ball gets the nod on merit, certainly over the in-form Bradley Davies, who starts against the Wallabies from the bench. All very impressive in only Ball’s second season of professional rugby.

He moved to Australia with his parents at the age of 16 and was on the books with Western Force before Scarlets found out about his parentage – dad Dave hails from Pwllheli and aspired to play rugby for Wales – and lured him to Wales for the first time in his life.

His is a notable English accent, with the occasional Aussie inflection, among his Wales peers at the team’s training base and his past geography makes this weekend’s encounter extra special.

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Australia in training at Treforest

“Yeah, I’d say it is. It means a lot to me,” Ball says. “Obviously, I know a couple of their players as well – Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman – although I don’t really keep in touch with them.”

Looking at his ample frame, it is laughable to think Western Force originally turned him away for a time and told him to bulk up. Months of morning gym sessions, two litres of milk for breakfast and a heavy diet of protein saw him quickly return to the fold.

It is clear the tighter, more combative style of rugby in Wales has proved more suited to his game, Ball in particular relishing the breakdown.

But he is adamant that playing for Australia – either in cricket or rugby – was never a likely option; likewise an opportunity to represent England in either sport was not going to be taken. Wales rugby was the only real calling.

Jeff Thomson used to like to say: “I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch.”

Watch Ball throwing himself into the Wallabies on Saturday, and it will become apparent that the comparison to “Thommo” does not simply rest with his slinging  bowling action.

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