Aaron Wainwright eager to show what he can do for Wales after 'whirlwind'
Last Updated: 25/01/19 7:37pm
Aaron Wainwright admits life has been "a bit of a whirlwind" after going from rugby apprentice to potential Six Nations debutant in just 16 months.
The Arsenal fan might even have plied his trade in a different sport completely had he not been released by Cardiff City as a teenager.
But the one-time budding midfielder, whose football colleagues included Manchester United's Regan Poole, now has a Six Nations and Rugby World Cup in his sights.
Wainwright, 21, only made his Dragons debut in October 2017 - he had been converted from a wing to flanker by his former youth team coach Marc Geary - yet such was the impact he made that Wales capped him just eight months later.
He also starred during an unbeaten autumn Test campaign this season, delivering impressive displays in victories over Tonga and South Africa.
"It has been a bit of a whirlwind since my debut for the Dragons," said Wainwright, a product of Newport's Bassaleg School that produced rugby internationals like Ryan Jones, Stuart Barnes and Jonathan Callard.
"So much has happened in such a short space of time, but I am enjoying it so much."
Wainwright got into rugby through a combination of his friends asking him to try it at his local club and "not having anything to do" sports-wise after his soccer hopes ended.
He played for Cardiff from U10s through to U16s, but an injury - "it was growing pains, and I couldn't run properly without pain," he said - hampered him.
"I was out for seven or eight months, and when it came to crunch time as to who was getting contracts, they said they would have to let me go," Wainwright said.
"I didn't see it coming. I thought I was going to progress.
"I finished playing football, and didn't have anything to do, really. I wanted to concentrate on my studies, and then I got into rugby through friends and teachers at school.
"I would go to the gym with my friends, and they encouraged me to go down to Whiteheads Youth and start playing some rugby. I was quite short back then, and I played on the wing,
"Then my coach converted me into a flanker. Whenever I see Marc now, he always says what a good job he did with me!
"I moved into the first team, and I got picked up by the Dragons academy coaches when I was 17."
Part of Wainwright's rugby development came during a year he spent at Cardiff Metropolitan University, where he forged a friendship with current Harlequins forward Alex Dombrandt, who has taken the Gallagher Premiership by storm this term.
"Alex sent me a message when the Six Nations squad was announced," he said. "I am sure it won't be too long before he gets called up by England. He has been on fire for Harlequins.
"We are good mates. He was a year above me at Cardiff Met, and he was very supportive of me."
Wainwright cut his rugby teeth while at Cardiff Met, playing a combination of Welsh League games and national student matches.
And Wales head coach Warren Gatland did not take long to recognise back-row forward Wainwright's raw natural talent, calling him in to train with the national squad ahead of last summer's Tests against South Africa and Argentina.
He made his Wales debut in the first Argentina Test in San Juan, and now the prospect of a Six Nations opener against France looms large, with Wainwright widely tipped to be part of Wales' match-day 23.
"If you get an opportunity you have got to take it with both hands and show what you can do," Wainwright said.
"If we can do well in the Six Nations, then push on to the World Cup, that would be brilliant."