Beal lit up Arms Park long be­fore Twick­en­ham

The Rugby Paper - - News -

“My time in Wales gave me a love for the game. Would I have got into it had we not moved there? Prob­a­bly not.”

Over the last 20 years al­most as many em­bry­onic Lions have taken their first steps at what must be the most pro­duc­tive nurs­ery in the Bri­tish Isles. Ev­ery na­tional schools’ body can lay claim to a galaxy of in­ter­na­tional names but none can have nur­tured quite as many at such an early age as the ju­nior group of the Welsh Schools’ Rugby Union. They have been rolling off their as­sem­bly line from the age of ten or eleven.

Nat­u­rally the ma­jor­ity are Welsh but not ex­clu­sively. Eng­land have also reaped a re­ward, mas­sively so in the shape of the Vu­nipola broth­ers whose Grand Slam suc­cess on the wrong side of Offa’s Dyke begs the ques­tion as to how Wales al­lowed them to be spir­ited away from un­der their noses.

While that will re­main a sore point for as long as they wear the Red Rose, the Welsh schools had also launched an­other English Lion off to­wards the stars long be­fore Feao Vu­nipola signed for Pon­ty­pool and brought his two gi­gan­tic boys with him.

Nick Beal’s pro­file at pri­mary school age was not so much low as sub­ter­ranean and if that was only to be ex­pected, then it was sur­pris­ing that his exit proved to be ev­ery bit as far un­der the radar as his entrance. Had it not been for three win­ters’ ex­po­sure to rugby dur­ing his for­ma­tive years, Beal’s sport­ing life may well have headed in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

“I’d never thought about rugby un­til we moved from We­ston-su­per-Mare to live in Wales,” he says. “I was like any eight-year-old. I played a bit of foot­ball in the win­ter and a bit of cricket in the sum­mer, never rugby.

“When my dad’s work took him to Cardiff we set­tled in Porth­cawl and I went to school nearby at Not­tage. At the pri­mary school, rugby was the thing to do so I joined in.

“I re­mem­ber one sports day when I was the quick­est in the year. Then they put me up against the fastest boy in the year above me. I was taken from the class­room dur­ing a les­son and out into the play­ground.

“I won and they said: ‘Right, we’ve got a game next week and you’re play­ing. Get stuck in’. It must have gone ok be­cause then I got cho­sen for the Brid­gend team which in­cluded all the schools in the area with some re­ally out­stand­ing play­ers like Rob How­ley.

“Wher­ever we went, every­one was very pas­sion­ate about the game. Rugby was ev­ery­thing and I was happy to be swept along. I re­mem­ber watch­ing the internationals and see­ing the All Blacks train in Porth­cawl which they used as their base for all the games in Wales.”

By the time he left Beal – or Ni­cholas Beale as they mis-spelt his name in the pro­gramme – had made a try-scor­ing de­but at Cardiff Arms Park, for Brid­gend un­der-11’s against their Cardiff coun­ter­parts for the DC Thomas Cup, a cur­tain-raiser to the 1982 Welsh Cup fi­nal.

His mo­ment is cap­tured on a 51minute dvd made by the Welsh Schools RFU to mark 40 years of their ju­nior group.

“When we moved back to Eng­land, I was lucky to go to an­other rugby school, RGS Wy­combe. My time in Wales gave me a love for the game. Would I have got into it had we not moved there? Prob­a­bly not.”

Nor would he have spent last Mon­day night join­ing the rest of the vic­to­ri­ous Lions of 1997 for a re­union in hon­our of one of their own, Dod­die Weir, the inim­itable Scot who keeps win­ning le­gions of new ad­mir­ers with his bat­tle against Mo­tor Neu­rone Dis­ease.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Pace to burn: Nick Beal scores against the Emerg­ing Spring­boks in ‘97

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