Dillon Lewis is relishing the opportunity to create history, as Wales gear up for a blockbuster Rugby World Cup semi final against South Africa in Yokohama on Sunday.
The Cardiff Blues academy product has enjoyed a rapid rise on the international stage, establishing himself as a key member of Warren Gatland’s matchday squad.
And, with Wales putting the entire nation in World Cup fever on their journey to the final four, the 23-year-old tighthead prop is one of only nine players to feature in all five tournament games to date.
His success in the red jersey has been impressive, as he boasts the highest win percentage of any Wales player who has played 20 or more times for his country [90 per cent], and has a Grand Slam under his belt.
The prop is determined to add a World Cup final onto his CV, but is under no illusion about the physical task ahead against a powerful Springboks side.
“South Africa are a physical side who have a big pack and a powerful pack,” said Lewis.
“As forwards, we know that we have a big job ahead, but these are the games you want to be involved in and the calibre of opposition you want to face.
“It’s those kind of packs you want to play against when you are growing up.
“It’s opportunities like this that make you excited about playing rugby. We both know it’s going to be a challenge - again one we are excited about. .
“To play against the Beast [Tendai Mtawarira] for example - who’s a very big bloke and known for set piece skills- is something I’m very much looking forward to.
“After the game against France, I’m sure you would’ve seen the amount of Welsh people welcoming us back to the team hotel.
“If that type of support is out here in Japan, what’s happening back home in Wales must be special.
“Reaching a final would be an amazing achievement, but we’re all focused on the task ahead which is South Africa in the semi final.
“A couple of months ago, you didn’t want to think too much about these latter stages. But now that we’re here, we know what we need to do to get the job done.
“It’s a really exciting time for myself and the rest of the team. There’s excitement around camp just today and the game isn’t for a few days. It’s definitely something we’re thinking about.
“Staff can’t wait for the games and an opportunity potentially of us playing in a final.”
Lewis, alongside Dragons’ Elliot Dee and fellow academy product, Rhys Carré, made a game-changing impact from the bench in the set-piece during the quarter final win over France.
They forced two crucial turnovers at scrums - with a strong scrum clearing danger deep in their own 22, and another scrum leading to the match-winning try for Ross Moriarty.
Lewis has reflected on the role of the bench in the historic comeback over Les Bleus and admits it’s been a ‘rollercoaster’ couple of years to get to this point in his career.
The prop explained: “50 mins into that game against France it dawned on us - we could be going home Monday and we didn’t want to go home.
“As replacements we’d spoken about what we needed to do when we got onto the field. Our job was to up that tempo and bring a bit of excitement. The opportunities we did get in the scrum we said we had to attack - a great opportunity for us.
“Everyone who went out there wanted to make sure that nothing was left out on the pitch.
“You have to give credit to Rhys for that big scrum before the winning try. He made the step up and did a good job of it.
“It’s good to have that opportunity to make your mark on the game from the bench, and playing in the quarter final of the World Cup isn’t something that comes around often. It’s exciting to be part of this journey.
“It’s been a rollercoaster couple of years for myself, and I still find it hard to believe that I find myself here.
“A couple of months ago, if you’d have told me I’d be here now I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m glad to have this opportunity.”
Lewis’ regional team-mate, Josh Navidi, was forced off the field against France after 28 minutes of action, and it has since been confirmed the back row is ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
Fellow Cardiff Blue, Owen Lane, has been called up to replace the dreadlocked star, having made a try scoring debut for Wales during the summer Test against Ireland.
Lewis, who admits losing Navidi is a disappointment, is confident the wing will contribute to the squad both on and off the pitch.
The prop added: “He’s a good character to have around the squad, and I’m looking forward to seeing him here in Japan.
“He’ll be a good addition into the squad, and he’s got plenty to say! He’s confident and it will be good to have him joining up with us.
“It’s a disappointment to lose Navidi. He’s played fantastically to this point and he’s had a brilliant World Cup.
“We’re all gutted for him to see his World Cup come to an end early but we have a good squad of players here with plenty who can step up and do a job.”