Dillon Lewis has highlighted the influence Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees had on his burgeoning career as he broke into the Cardiff Blues senior squad.
The now Wales international made his senior debut during the 2014-15 season, with stalwart duo ‘Melon’ and ‘Smiler’ still very much at the forefront of the region’s efforts.
With more than 500 professional appearances, 189 Wales caps and eight British & Irish Lions Tests between them the duo had certainly done it all and cut imposing figures at the Arms Park.
And while it was not always kind words, Lewis has revealed they both had a telling influence as he came through the ranks.
He said: “When I was coming in the real senior boys were Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins.
“Smiler was an old dog. They were sat in their corner and you wouldn’t dare look at them because you would get the death stare!
“But they were good, Matthew Rees helped me a lot and Gethin was like the headmaster. I’ve had my fair few tellings off from Geth but he’s doing it for the best.
“At the time you think he’s grumpy but it was really good to have. When they were my age, the team they had around them won a fair bit of silverware, Dai Young as coach, Xavier Rush, Paul Tito and all these really influential players and they carried that environment on. I learnt a lot from Gethin, not just rugby but as a bloke.”
Lewis was speaking to his management team at Engage Sport and reflected upon his entire career so far, including the strokes of fortune, and indeed misfortune, during his early years and learning to adapt to the game-plans and philosophies of different coaches.
One particular example was finding himself down the tight-head pecking order under Danny Wilson in 2018, despite winning his first international cap that summer.
While Lewis’ potential was undisputed and he was capped with an eye on the future, he still had to battle the legendary Taufa’ao Filise and established professionals Scott Andrews and Anton Peikrishvili for the number three jersey.
He said: “My first cap for Wales was on the Samoa-Tonga tour and again it was by luck. I had only played one game of rugby that season, I had an injury on my foot, which needed an operation and ruled me out for the rest of the season.
“I lost loads of weight for the summer but came back a month early! I played a few games for Cardiff RFC and then Robin McBryde called me.
“I trained with them and made the tour. I had five minutes off the bench against Tonga, then Tom Francis got called up for the Lions and I started against Samoa. It was a rollercoaster year but a good experience.
“I was probably immature then, I went out there and enjoyed it as much as I could. There was a lot of pressure but, at that age I just had a ‘see what happens’ mentality. That was probably good as well.
“It was good to have that experience but what brought me back down to earth was sitting down with the head coach at the Blues, who basically said I wouldn’t be playing this year. I went from one extreme to finding out I wasn’t in the plans.
“When you are young you don’t expect to play but it was about getting past the point where I thought because I had a Welsh cap I expect to be playing. That was a year where I grew up quite a bit and realised what I needed to do to put my foot through the door.
“It was all about performances. The opportunities I did get , it was not letting them pass me by but trying to play each week, seeing what I needed to do to improve my game and understand what he was looking for.
“The thing I didn’t understand at a young age is every coach is different and every coach what they are looking for is different. One coach might love the way you play and want to play you every weekend but another might want something different. You have to be quite flexible at times and adapt to what they are looking for.”