This week Bill Carne pops across to Bierspool to talk to the 16 year old Pembroke Dock Harlequins and Scarlets (West) flanker Hywel Baker about his rugby aspirations...

THE Scarlets (West) and Pembrokeshire Pathway Scheme has been a real boon in helping talented young rugby players to achieve their full potential in the game under the watchful eye of Jonathan Llewhellin and one of those beginning to catch the eye in the back row is Hywel Baker of Pembroke Dock Harlequins.

16 year old Hywel, who is known to all as ‘Bakes’, started rugby aged seven under the watchful eye of the late Stuart Lewis at Bierspool and readily admits that he was a fairly slow starter as he was always a big lad and the smaller, faster kids would buzz past him during the non-contact and tag games, but under generous encouragement from Stuart, who inspired so many children, he soon found his form and used his size and power to run past would-be taggers.

He moved through the age groups into contact rugby, which he has always loved, with his father Huw, a Quins’ stalwart prop, Gareth Lewis and Mark Bradney as coaches. By then Huw and his team mates had won the U8's tag title, appropriately on their own ground, against an unbeaten Neyland side well run by Peter Hughes, who were tipped as favourites to win.

He started out as hooker and then switched to second row and centre – but has definitely settled now in the back row - and at nine he went on tour with Dai Halstead's U12's side to Malta, and played with the likes of Jake Griffiths and Billy Woods against some burley Maltese lads and won the "best hands on tour", presented by Jason Griffiths & Colin Burton.

He was selected for the Pembrokeshire Schools’ under 11s Development Squad, run by Kenny Davies and Jeff Clout, going on tour to Spain, playing against Spanish and French teams. They had to raise some of the funds themselves and Hywel joined the rest of the squad on a weekend, packing bags at Morrison’s in Haverfordwest!

His performances there saw him progress into the Schools under11's team and then he was delighted to be selected for the Dyfed School's Team.

He continued to play for Pembroke School and the Quins’ juniors, who twice won the Pembrokeshire Tournament for their age group with successes over strong Haverfordwest and Crymych sides.

They also played in a ten-man tournament in Abergavenny and when they turned up in fancy dress were considered no-hopers, but they battled through to the final before missing out narrowly to the host club!

His rugby has always kept him busy but it is good to report that he has also enjoyed taking part in other sports because Hywel also swam for Pembroke & District Swimming Club alongside his sister Emily and trained three times a week as part of the squad, competing in galas across the county under the watchful eyes of Francis Bunker & Keith Thomson, where his favourite strokes were front crawl and breast stroke.

He plays cricket for Stackpole and in his time with the juniors he had a top score of 30+ not out and five wickets against Narberth, and plays now for the second team when he is needed.

Hywel also represented Pembrokeshire Schools in the Year 9 shot putt at the Brecon Schools Championship, coming a respectable fourth under the watchful eye of Pembroke School Sports teachers Mr Neil Truman and Mr Andrew Davies, who have both helped Hywel to develop into the young man he is today.

Outside of his sporting involvement, Hywel is a keen bass and lobster fisherman, which he started at the age of eight, helping his Dad and uncle Haydn on their fishing boat from Freshwater East.

Hywel has now progressed to skippering his own bass boat, ‘Emily Jayne’, named after his sister. In any spare time during the summer Hywel is to be found out off Tenby and St Govan's chasing the summer bass shoals.

Sadly, Hywel’s success came to an abrupt halt when he was playing for the county under 15s in a match at Ceredigion and as he was running at full speed managed to twist his knee.

“I actually heard the crunch in my knee,” Hywel told us, “and after some debate amongst doctors I was diagnosed with a snapped AC ligament joint in my left knee. I eventually had my operation in Bridgend and it was awful not being able to play for the county in the Dewar Shield.

“But I battled hard, camping at Freshwater East and running on the beach as part of my rehab, and it is great to be involved again in the Scarlets (West) team coached by Johnny Llewellin and Mike Jones, with Graham Harries as team manager.

“We train every Monday in Haverfordwest, with a skills session on the grass inside the floodlit running track followed by weights in the SAW gym where Simon Roach and Owain Rowlands are such a help.

“We also train there on Saturday mornings and my parents, Huw and Nicky, sometimes do their shopping in Haverfordwest, including the hair gels, shampoos and after-shaves he loves alongside the chickens and steak that are his favourites. Nicky and Emily have given further support by regularly cooking the post-match sausage and chips for the players at Bierspool!

“They are great supporters, as are my uncle Haydn and grandfathers Peter Baker, a Pembroke RFC supporter, and Bobby Bell, whose mis-spent youth included kicking the wrong-shaped ball with Pembroke Borough and Pennar Robins.

“I couldn’t have been so involved without all their help,” admitted Hywel.

The Scarlets (West) have already played well to beat Scarlets (East) by 8-0 at Narberth, with a try by scrum half George Evans alongside a penalty by Whitland No 10 Scott Lloyd, and forthcoming fixtures include North Wales in Narberth, followed by other tough fixtures against the likes of Cardiff North and South, Dragons East and West, plus another match against the Scarlets (East).

Ask Hywel and he would say that he is happy to be involved in the squad because, like most of his colleagues, he wants to reach as high a level as he can; especially playing the game at professional level if the chance arises.

He is clearly ready to show the necessary commitment and we wish Hywel Baker every success because this popular and cheerful young feller is a credit to his family, his club and his county!