WALES under-20s finished third in the rugby World Cup played in South Africa this month, a result described as a “dream come true” by two players from Pembrokeshire.
Luke Hamilton, of Pembroke, and Rob Evans, of Haverfordwest, both featured in the Wales pack that more than held its own against every nation they played.
Wales won their group games against Fiji 44-18, then beat Samoa 74-3, and then incredibly beat New Zealand 9-6 to become the first ever team to beat the Baby Blacks in the competition.
Loose-head prop Evans missed last year’s competition with a shoulder injury, but was thrilled to be in the Wales team that gained a shock victory over New Zealand, who had thrashed them 92-0 last year.
Evans said: “It was awesome beating them. We were well chuffed in the changing rooms afterwards. Some of the boys played against them when we got smashed last year.”
But ironically, Wales’ World Cup winning dreams were dashed in the semi-finals when the Baby Blacks gained revenge, winning by a 30-6 winning margin.
“We were gutted losing to them,” added Evans. “We were 6-0 up but they grabbed tries either side of half time and that finally broke our spirit.”
But Wales quickly dusted themselves off when they took on a physical Argentina team in the third-place play-off played at Newlands Stadium.
“We dominated the scrums and were 19-0 up at half time. They came back at us in the second half but our defence stayed strong and we deservedly won 25-17 last Friday.”
It’s the highest position that Wales have finished in the competition, and was a vital experience for the players who can push on and aspire to play at the highest level.
Evans has just signed a three-year deal with the Scarlets and will undergo a hip operation next week. He says he can’t wait to train and hopefully make his mark at senior level.
“I think I more than held my own in all the World Cup games. Now I want to play at regional level. It will be hard but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Coach Danny Wilson, who joins the Scarlets coaching team on his return from South Africa, said: “This group of players has shown that they can beat the best sides in the world at this level. Hopefully that will spur on other age group sides to do the same.
“We are pleased with our third place finish. That was our aim once we lost in the semi. We weren’t great in the second half against Argentina but we did enough in the first half to hold on for the win to cap off a great tournament.”
Overall, Wilson sees the experience as a hugely positive one, for all involved in this campaign.
“The ball-in-play time was 37 minutes which is the same as Regional games so this is a good preparation for these boys to play regional rugby. I must say the players have shown an impeccable attitude both on and off the pitch, they have been a credit to Wales and to the development system.”