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Ball: Fielding put me off cricket

It is not stretching the boundaries of sporting fantasy to suggest that Wales lock Jake Ball might have played cricket for Australia had he not loathed fielding so much.

But Australia's loss is Wales' gain, and Ball will run out against the Wallabies on Saturday for a rugby union Test match that he admits "means a lot to me."

During a previous sporting life, the bearded Scarlets forward struck fear into opposition batsmen on wickets renowned for their pace and bounce in Western Australia.

A teenage cricketing peer of Shaun and Mitchell Marsh and tutored by their father - former Australia Test opening batsman Geoff Marsh - seamer Ball's bowling was once clocked at 82mph. He describes his slinging action as "similar" to Mitchell Johnson, but "probably more Jeff Thomson."

Ascot-born Ball, whose father Dave is a North Walian who played number eight for London Welsh and Harlequins, emigrated to Australia with his family at the age of 16. And cricket was the sporting plan.

"I went out there to play cricket, and I did it for two years," Ball said.

"I was a fast bowler and I played alongside the Marsh boys. I miss the competitive edge of the bowling, but I hated standing in the field and I was a tail-end batsman as well, so I ended up spending a lot of time sitting around.

"I was probably a bit over the top when I played cricket.

"If I got nicked through slips and that, it would be a case of trying to keep my cool. I wouldn't say it was sledging - I was more of a quiet angry man, I think!"

Ball, now 23, had opened the bowling for Western Australia Under-19s, but he added: "I realised that cricket wasn't the path I wanted to go down. I missed my rugby."

Ball captained Surrey Under-15s rugby team before heading Down Under, and he was training with the Perth-based Western Force Super Rugby squad when the Scarlets spotted him before quickly offering him a three-year contract in 2012.

Less than two years later, he broke into the Wales squad, making his Test debut as a replacement against Ireland during last season's RBS 6 Nations Championship before starting Six Nations appointments with France and England.

He also toured South Africa with Wales in June, featuring during the agonising 31-30 second Test defeat in Nelspruit, and Ball is viewed as an important part of head coach Warren Gatland's second-row armoury alongside the likes of Alun-Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris.

"I am just happy to get this opportunity, to be honest," he added, ahead of a first start against major southern hemisphere opposition.

"I think it is going to be a brutal contest, and we will get stuck into it like we would any international game.

"I know a couple of their players (Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman) as well, so it means a lot to me this game. To get picked (in the Wales starting XV) was a big goal of mine."

It has been very much a case of no pain, no gain, though, for Ball and company, with Gatland having put his autumn Test squad through a particularly punishing training regime during the past fortnight.

"It has been a pretty brutal couple of weeks," Ball said. "And we will obviously gain the benefits from that.

"We have been up early every morning and in the altitude chamber, which is not my favourite place!

"The running fitness is something I have personally done a fair bit of work on. When I first came into the camp, the running side of things for me was very different. I had never done some of the tests before, so now I am starting to get my foothold there.

"There is always competition in training, and it's great to have such strength in that (second-row) area.

"There is a lot more close-quarter stuff over here with the rugby - more picking and going - and I love the breakdown side of the game, so it has suited me massively."


From Belfast Telegraph