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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

'These are players we'd love to see playing in Wales and playing in the red jersey'

Shane Williams is hopeful Wales can hang onto more players like James McCarthy in the future.

IT WILL BE an interesting week for Ireland U20s wing/fullback James McCarthy, who is set to face the country of his birth on Friday night in the Six Nations.

Born and raised in Newport, McCarthy was a Welsh international at U18 Schools level, scoring two tries against Ireland as recently as April 2017.

James McCarthy McCarthy moved from Wales to Ireland ahead of the current season. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

McCarthy’s father is Irish and the family has always maintained strong ties here, so when the 18-year-old received an academy offer from Munster, he jumped at the opportunity.

With McCarthy having the opportunity to study in Limerick along with his academy contract, his decision to move to Ireland last summer was entirely understandable.

The Welsh Rugby Union couldn’t stand in the way of McCarthy’s desire to head to Ireland, but it was certainly a loss to their underage system and former Wales international Shane Williams hopes to see this kind of departure becoming less common.

“It’s obviously a concern because we want all our best players to stay in Wales, but these things happen,” says Williams, who scored 58 tries in 87 caps. “Players fall through the net.

“Look at Josh Adams, who went through the academy system at the Scarlets, none of the regions wanted him and he ends up playing in Worcester and he’s the top try scorer in the Premiership. Luckily we managed to keep hold of him.

“These things happen, and you could look at players like Rhys Ruddock, who is playing in Ireland. Unfortunately, it does happen and these are players we’d love to see playing in Wales and playing in the red jersey.”

England’s Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, were raised in Wales and played for an East Wales schools side before moving to England, while the Dragons are currently frustrated at young Welsh-Tongan players being lured away to English schools on scholarships.

While Williams appreciates that individual circumstances and many other factors need to be weighed up in each of these instances, he wants to see the best players possible in Welsh jerseys.

Shane Williams Dublin Pub, Paddy Cullen’s will be known as “Shane Williams” in honour of the Welsh legend for the Ireland v Wales game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Even though they don’t sound very Welsh, we could have had the Vunipola brothers, so it does happen,” says Williams. “Sam Underhill, we had him at the Ospreys and we did our best to get him in that red jersey.

“Eddie Jones got him over the bridge and he spoils our dreams in Twickenham [with his remarkable try-saving tackle two weekends ago].

“You are going to lose some players through the system sometimes, even Leigh Halfpenny – none of the regions wanted him for a time and the Ospreys let him go to Cardiff, thank God he stayed.

“Wales isn’t the biggest place, we’d like to keep hold of our best players really, but sometimes this happens.”

While Wales have lost the likes of Ruddock and McCarthy to Ireland and other nations, they have benefited from the influence of an Irishman at club level in recent times.

Munster-bound Tadhg Beirne has been outstanding for the Scarlets over the past two seasons. Williams is disappointed that Beirne will return to Ireland this summer, as he pursues an opportunity at international level under Joe Schmidt.

“You’ve got to look after number one, especially if you want to play for your country,” says Williams.

“As far as the Scarlets are concerned, it would have been nice if he did get selected for Ireland and decided to stay in Wales, they’d have been rubbing their hands really. Sometimes you’ve got to make those choices and sacrifices.”

Tadhg Beirne Beirne will leave Wales at the end of the season. Source: Byran Keane/INPHO

Williams says he was “very surprised” Ireland didn’t call Beirne up for this Six Nations after his stunning form for the Scarlets and he believes the lock will be badly missed in Wales next season.

“He is a big loss as he suits the style of rugby that the Scarlets play. He’s very comfortable with ball in hand, he’s good at getting involved in the game. He’s flourished in a team that, under Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones, are playing the best rugby in the Pro14 really.

“It would be one of those things where they’re gutted to have to let him go. They would probably have done anything to keep hold of him.

“Obviously, he wants to progress, to get into the Irish side as well, and perhaps he thinks coming back over here and playing with a good team [Munster] will do him the world of good. As far as the Scarlets are concerned, he’s the one that got away.”

Guinness has partnered with well-known Dublin pub Paddy Cullen’s to change its name to “Shane Williams” on 24 February as a nod to the Welsh legend and to create a new ‘Welsh’ ‘home from home’ destination for a pre-match pint. All fans will be welcome whatever their jersey!

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Murray Kinsella

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