Tom Grabham Column: Wales will not be lacking any belief

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Talking Rugby Union is pleased to introduce Tom Grabham as one of our new columnists for the 2020 Six Nations Championship.

Tom currently coaches at Bridgend Ravens in the Welsh Premiership, but he did play for Ospreys in the then Pro12 competition. He moved to Scarlets in 2017, but a knee injury unfortunately forced Tom to retire at the age of just 26. Here he gives us an insight into his journey in the game, life as a coach plus Tom previews Wales’ Six Nations campaign.

Why my Scarlets career was ‘over before it started’

I began at the Ospreys and I was there for six or seven seasons. I came through their development pathway and eventually progressed into their senior squad.

From the Ospreys, I went to the Scarlets for a season which unfortunately ended before it really started due to a knee injury. It is just one of those things. When it is your time, it is your time and that is ultimately what it was.

I was ready to kick on at Scarlets before the injury. I worked really hard that summer and I think there would have been opportunity there. Certainly, working under the coaches who are there now and playing alongside some of those backs they have now, that would have been great to get that consistent run of games.

The injury meant it was time to move on which has led me into coaching at Welsh Premiership level which presents a completely different challenge altogether. It is my third season into that so I am still learning at Bridgend so we will see where that goes.

‘I am in good hands at Bridgend’

It has been tough in terms of the results! I think we have dropped about 12 points at home in the last minute which would have changed the landscape of our season.

I am lucky that I am working under Richard Fussell, who is involved with the Wales U20s in the Six Nations and I played with him for a couple years too so it is nice to work with him on a coaching level. Obviously, Steve Jones is the Head Coach so it is great to learn off ‘Jabba’ as well so I am in good hands.

Ospreys and Alun-Wyn the leader

I think one of the things which really stood out at Ospreys was the players I was exposed to. I lot of my development and learning was being part of a squad which was full of Welsh internationals and British Lions. You can name a lot of names, but the likes of Alun-Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb in particular, I think they are some of the most professional players I have ever come across.

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The captains have spoken with #WALvITA to come in just over a week's time.. ? ? @alun.wyn.jones: “The integration and opportunity Wayne has had to bring his management and settle in has been great. The Barbarians week was invaluable and we feel like we are a week ahead already. It is a change for everyone, but it is an exciting time to be part of a young and vibrant squad with a lot to prove. With the make-up of the group there are a lot of guys who have been involved over the last couple of years and guys who have come back from injury and back into contention.? ? “The make-up of the group isn’t just the players, it’s the management as well. As a captain it makes my job easier and I also get to learn a few more tricks. The energy is there and I’ve got to keep up with the young guys. If we are going to evolve our game there are probably a few more things to adapt to and that’s what you need to do.”? ? @siwanlillicrap: “We have 11 players in the squad who made their Wales debut in the autumn. They don’t look out of place but this is a stage to step up another gear as we continue on our journey towards the world cup.? ? “Every training session is about closing that performance gap, upping our intensity, and performing at a better standard than we have before. We are challenging ourselves in every session we go into. We’ve had a good start to training over the last few weeks.”?

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They set the gold standard for any young player coming up in terms of what was expected of you as a pro, how to approach your working week and preparing yourself for a game. Training with those guys and seeing how they operated at the top level pretty invaluable.

Alun-Wyn is just a brilliant leader. He is the definition of the word. Having worked with him, it forces you to be on his level in terms of that professionalism and how he approaches everything whether than be training or aspects off the field like recovery or nutrition. He raises everyone in the squad and everyone strives to follow suit. That gets the best out of you as a group of players. Standards are lifted no matter what squad he is in.

Flying wingers can light up Wales’ Six Nations campaign

I think everyone who is interested in Welsh rugby is excited to see Louis Rees-Zammit. Some of the stuff he has been able to do over the last couple of weeks in Europe has certainly whetted the appetite of the Welsh public.

I do think the back-three is one of the most competitive areas in the Welsh squad, especially with Johnny McNicholl coming into the fold. Johnny was someone I was lucky to train and play with at Scarlets and you could tell he was a naturally gifted athlete.

I think he is up there with some of the best I have seen and it is great to see him starting this weekend. He has just got a real flair about him so I expect to see Johnny feature quite heavily as well. Those two have definitely got an X-Factor to bring to that Welsh side which everyone can get excited by.

Pivac and co are the right fit for Grand Slam defence

In Wayne, I think Wales have got the right man for the job and not only that, it is the staff he has brought along with him. The three of them individually are very good at what they do, but together, Wayne, Byron Hayward and Stephen [Jones], they just complement each other so well. That can only add to the positives for the squad really.

I know I had a short and brief time with the Scarlets with the three of them, but you see how well they play off each other. I expect them to carry on the work Gats [Warren Gatland] and his coaches did.

I don’t see why Wales can’t win it again! They have got three home games so they will look to win their home games as they always do. It is stiff competition going to Ireland and obviously that England game is going to be a really big challenge, but the thing with this Welsh team is that they have been there and done it before.

I don’t think they will be lacking belief. I have no doubt they will go into every game thinking they can win and I think with Welsh sides in the past, the longer they have been together, the better they seem to play so I think you have to believe.

Tom was speaking to TRU's Chris Heal