Joe Hawkins surprised by speed of rise of Wales hopeful to Test starter

Joe Hawkins is a leader of Wales’ exciting young rugby generation, but admits his rapid rise has been quicker than expected.

The 20-year-old Ospreys center has made an immediate impression on Wales head coach Warren Gatland with remarkable footballing ability and all-around excellence.

Hawkins made his Test debut against Australia during this season’s Autumn Nations Series, which turned out to be the final game of Wayne Pivac’s managerial reign for Wales.

And Gatland did not hesitate to sign him for Wales’ opening Guinness Six Nations match against Ireland when, along with the likes of flanker Rio Dyer and flanker Jac Morgan, he again underlined his quality.

“This is a new team with players with different abilities and different strengths and it brings something that is a little different,” Gatland said after selecting Hawkins to face Ireland.

“He’s a lovely footballer and I wanted to give him security and confidence after Australia’s performance to get him started again.”

Hawkins looks set to take part in Saturday’s meeting with Scotland at Murrayfield and has settled into Test level smoothly, having developed a strong midfield combination with 110-times capped George North.

“I have always tried to be as complete as possible. The way the game is going, you can’t be too one-dimensional,” Hawkins said.

“I like the ball game, but you also have to be able to hit it a little bit.

“On the field, it would probably be quite easy to go inside yourself a bit, but if you want to compete with the players in camp, you have to try to be bold and express yourself.

“When you come in with great characters, if you want to impact the game and training, you can’t go into your shell.

Wales center Joe Hawkins

Joe Hawkins impressed in Wales’s Six Nations game against Ireland (Nigel French/PA)

“They would prefer you to be vocal and demanding on the pitch, so that’s what you have to try to do.

“When you are in the under-20s, you see the senior team play and you have always had the ambition to continue and play for the senior team.

“I probably didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it did.

“It’s a bit surreal to be in training camp. I guess he’s just trying to take all the experience they (the senior players) have, and then put it into your game.

“All you can do is take care of business in your region and hope to get a bit of international recognition.

“I didn’t expect it to happen as fast as this. I just focus on playing for the Ospreys, and then whatever happens.”

The Hawkins family has a proud rugby tradition, with Joe’s father David a former Aberavon centre, his uncle Dan also an accomplished player and his grandfather Brian a Welsh team member who played for Newport and Newbridge.

“When I was younger, he (David) coached me a bit, so he was always giving me advice along the way, but these days he lets me go on,” added Hawkins.

“They have loved it. It’s almost like living another race through me. They are all very proud. If I participate on Saturday, they will make the trip to Scotland.

Meanwhile, Gatland could make major changes to the group as Wales look to revive their Six Nations campaign.

Wales manager, Warren Gatland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland could make major changes for the Six Nations clash against Scotland (Nigel French/PA)

British and Irish Lions trio Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau could be under threat following a 34-10 loss against Ireland.

Exeter forwards Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza are likely starters, with the 21-year-old Tshiunza the choice for the blind-side winger role.

Leicester’s outspoken side Tommy Refhell is also in the selection mix, and an in-form Jac Morgan could see himself swapped to number eight in Faletau’s place.

They would represent big selection calls if you omit the blocking of Jones, winger Tipuric and Faletau, who have 342 caps for Wales and 18 Lions Test appearances between them, but Wales had a tough time up front against Ireland.

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