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Alex Mann ready for English challenge

International | 25th February 2022

Alex Mann plans to take another big bite out of England on Friday night, before the real hunger games start after the Six Nations.

The Wales U20 captain will lead his team out against their biggest rivals at Doncaster’s Castle Park in a match that serves as the perfect appetiser for the senior clash at Twickenham the following day.

Wales should not lack appetite for this clash – which is live on S4C - since England were the victims of a shock defeat to Italy in the last round of the age group  tournament, while Wales gave a ravenous display to overcome Scotland.

But for Mann, once the tournament is over, his own personal menu will be all about trying to put on weight and power as the next stage of his development.

The Cardiff No.8 caught the eye in that comeback win over the Scots, inspiring his team with a leader’s display at Colwyn Bay as they recovered from 10-0 down to win 26-13.

But at 6ft 3in and 96kg (15st 3lbs), the Merthyr-born forward knows he is not the biggest No.8 in the world, so there will be some serious eating and gym sessions when the campaign is over.

“The thing I need to work on is my weight, but I know that is going to come,” says Mann.

“I do find it hard to put on weight, but my physique is a strength in many ways. I am different to the bigger boys, but it all comes down to mindset.

“Everyone has two arms and two legs and I want it as much as anyone, and probably more than most. When I am one-on-one in tackles, then my mindset is always that I can come out on top.

“I know the weight will come and it’s something I will be working hard on after the Six Nations.

“I am 95/96kg at the moment, but after the Six Nations I will hope to soon get up to the 100kg mark. I am not focused on it at present. I am more focused on the next game.

“But I know I will be bigger in the future. To be fair, all my coaches have been pretty good. They know I work hard and I will be working hard to build weight, but it’s about giving your all and making the most of what I have.”

Mann points to Wales and Lions No.8 Taulupe Faletau – who returns for Wales after seven months out with an ankle injury on Saturday – as the perfect illustration of why size and power should not be placed above skills and speed.

The skipper cites Faletau as one of his chief inspirations – not least because the Bath star has spent a decade at the very peak of the international game, even though he is smaller than many of his direct opponents.

“Toby Faletau was a guy I always looked up to,” says Mann.

“He’s not a traditional, big ball-carrying No.8, but he’s effective because of his brilliant footwork and his ability to find the gaps.

“Faletau attacks the ball in defence, too, I just like the way he goes about things. Justin Tipuric was another I’ve watched closely as well as Ellis Jenkins at Cardiff.

“It’s about moulding aspects together from all those players who I’ve been studying for a number of years. There are a handful of world class players I look up to.”

Another comparison for those with longer memories could be with the rangy former Cardiff and Wales flanker Owain Williams, a force of nature back in the 1990s, who sadly passed away last year.

Williams’ son, Teddy, is a current teammate of Mann’s at the Arms Park.

Of the more current crop, like Tipuric and Jenkins, Mann has the versatility to play in a number of positions and he shares their qualities of awareness and anticipation – especially when it comes to snaffling turnovers as he did against the Scots.

“The turnovers are a big part of my game, which I have been working on. I was really pleased that aspect went well and helped the team.

“It’s a natural feel during the game whether you try and win those turnovers. You can’t win the ball at every breakdown. It’s about good decision-making.”

Wales U20 defence coach Craig Everett says Mann is a leader by actions, rather than words.

“Alex is someone who leads by what he does, rather than what he says,” argues Everett.

“He is not a screamer or a shouter. He just says, ‘I’m going to do it. Come and follow me.’ He’s a man of few words, but when he speaks, people listen.”

England’s defeat to the young Italians has caused some drastic rethinking within their camp.

The red roses have made eight changes from the team that went down 6-0 in Treviso, with one of those changes in the back row – but Mann insists he is not preoccupied with that the opposition are up to.

“I don’t really focus on other teams or their players. I like to focus on myself and my teammates.

“England are a really good side. But there is nothing better than playing against England. We are working hard on what we are good at and we are looking forward to it.

“We are excited about this game and we want to be excited on the field. We get a buzz out of seeing teammates make an impact on the field and that spreads through the team.

“I get goosebumps just thinking about this England game. We’ll be doing everything we can to get the right result.”

S4C – Friday: 6.45pm - Clwb Rygbi Rhyngwladol

England U20 v Wales U20

Live coverage of the Under 20 Six Nations Championship match from Castle Park in Doncaster, between England and Wales.

 English commentary available. K/O 7.00pm.