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Cardiff Rugby star ready to Mann the barricades

Pathway | 17th June 2021

If things had turned out differently, Alex Mann could have been preparing for a pre-season with Cardiff City in the Welsh capital this summer.

Instead, he will play with an oval ball and not a round one this month when he captains Wales in the Under-20 Six Nations which begins at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.

Mann was a talented young defender with the Bluebirds as a teenager, but he admits rugby was always his first love and he is now on the books of Cardiff Blues.

Now 19, Mann came through the ranks of his hometown club of Aberdare and has progressed with his home region while also representing Wales at Under-18 and Under-19 level.

“I played for Aberdare from when I could run really,” he said.

“Rugby was my first love. I just fell in love with it from when I was little. It just felt natural.

“But then I broke my elbow which put me off a bit so I went into football and played for Cardiff City. I was with their academy for two years from around 13 to 14.

“I was a centre back, I did the dirty job. I was more on the kicking side of it. I had a couple of yellow cards, but I had a bit of creativity as well. I didn’t really enjoy it.

“Rugby was the sport for me. I knew that as soon as I played football really. I was better at rugby, 110 per cent. I found my love of rugby again and I knew it was for me.

“I started back at Under-15’s and it just felt natural more than football. The feeling after the games was the best feeling I’ve had really and that hasn’t stopped up until now.

“I progressed through the Blues set-up and eventually got to Wales Under-19’s which was a massive privilege. Then I’ve just kept working hard and I’m here now.”

Wales begin their Under-20 Six Nations campaign against Italy on Saturday and the entire Championship will be played at Cardiff Arms Park.

It will give Ioan Cunningham’s side an unusual home advantage.

Mann might have chosen rugby rather than football in the end, but he admits the fact he has been in professional sporting environments from a young age has helped him no end.

So, who are Mann’s Welsh rugby heroes?

At 6ft 3ins and nearly 15 stone, it’s no surprise it’s a forward like him.

“The obvious one is Alun Wyn Jones,” he said.

“It’s just how he conducts himself. He’s a legend of the game. I try and look up to him because everything he gives is 110 per cent flat out and that’s a massive inspiration for me.

“Then there are the likes of Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau because I’m not maybe as big as some of the other forwards, but there are other ways around it with footwork and skills.

“I watch clips of them and try and evolve my game the best way I can.”

Mann and his junior Wales team-mates have had little rugby to play over the last 15 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the thought of playing on the international stage kept Cunningham’s squad going during lockdown.

Now, they are on the verge of returning to action.

“I really can’t wait,” Mann said.

“When I was training during Covid, I hung on to the feeling of singing the anthem for the Under-18’s.

“It just sticks in the back of my head.

“I don’t think there is a better feeling than playing for your country.

“We will deliver hard work and a lot of passion. We want to work for each other and for the jersey.

“I don’t think there is anything better than representing your country at any level.

“It’s about togetherness and giving it everything you’ve got.

“We have worked really hard, we have hit lumps into each other, and now we can’t wait to get out on the field.

“It’s a privilege to play in this tournament, have competitive games, and challenge ourselves at the best level we can. I’m really excited about what lies ahead.

“As long as I give 110 per cent every time I go into training or a game I know I have done my job.”