sport

Ball content with limelight

Berkshire-born Jake Ball will continue living the dream at Twickenham on Sunday when he attempts to plot England's RBS 6 Nations downfall.

The former Western Australia Under-19s cricketer, whose Welsh-speaking father from Pwllheli played rugby for Harlequins, has been handed his second Wales start after lock Luke Charteris suffered a neck injury in training.

It is the latest chapter in a remarkable story of a player whose rise to the top has proved far from conventional.

Ball kept going with his rugby aspirations, despite being told at Perth-based Western Force that he was not heavy enough, and then joining the Scarlets on trial while he also battled to overcome a serious knee injury.

The now-considerable beard that Ball has been growing for charity since last summer guarantees he will be easy to spot at Twickenham this weekend, and the 22-year-old Scarlets forward is seemingly comfortable with life in the limelight.

"I will be shaving it off at the end of the season for the Make A Wish Foundation. I grew it for charity, and I said I would grow it for a season," he said.

"I last shaved in July, so it's been a while. It has brought me some luck, so I might grow a beard a year, but I am not sure the fiancee will be happy with that!"

Ball's happy-go-lucky exterior belies an inner belief and strength that helped enable him cope comfortably with a first Test match start against France two weeks ago as a late replacement for star lock Alun-Wyn Jones, who had a foot infection.

He excelled during Wales' title-reviving 27-6 success, and it would be no surprise if he delivered the goods again, despite a considerable twin threat posed by England's dynamic second-row combination of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes.

"I am just going to get out there and do what I do best," Ball added.

"I just get stuck in and play my natural game. I like to hit my breakdowns and do the basics well.

"Luke copped the knock quite early in the week, so I was training in that starting role anyway. I think even when you are on the bench, you approach it as if you are going to start.

"Against France, it was quite a last-minute thing, which was quite nice to be honest. It didn't give me a lot of time to think about it - I could just get out there and play.

"I didn't know what I was running out into (at the Millennium Stadium). I didn't expect the lights to be off, the fireworks and everything else. It all just flashed by really quickly.

"It was a case of controlling the emotions through the anthems. It's a dream, isn't it, to play international rugby."

Ball's father Dave, who lives in Perth, watched his son's full debut against France - and he has subsequently been employed to good effect.

"He said he would come over for a couple of weeks, and he's still in my house at the moment. I can't get rid of him!" Ball said.

"But it has been good. He has built me some decking out the back of the house, so I've kept him busy. He has said he's got to go back after this game, but he has to finish the decking before he goes."

While Ball senior prepares to head back Down Under, Jake admits his decision to leave Perth and try his rugby luck in Wales was a huge call.

"It was an awkward situation at the time because I was carrying a knee injury," he added.

"So, when I first got over to play for the Scarlets, I was on a trial period. I couldn't play for the first month, so I was under pressure a bit.

"I played a couple of game for Llanelli RFC and probably didn't play as well as I wanted to. My knee wasn't quite right, but then I started to find my feet a bit.

"I got a few Scarlets games from the bench, started a few games last season, and then kicked on this season.

"I had been playing with Western Australia Under-19s at cricket, but I realised it wasn't the sort of career I wanted, so I changed back to rugby.

"I was only 95 kilos at the time, turning 18. I was on trial at the time and they (Western Force) said to me: 'You're not quite heavy enough, you have got to go away and put some weight on'. So I did - I took it to heart.

"I had a knee operation, which put me out for six months, and it meant I could put on weight quicker than when you are playing.

"I was doing all sorts of strange things. I was drinking two litres of milk in the morning and eating as much protein as I could get in."