Welsh teenager Ty Lewis has signed for French Pro D2 club Beziers.
The 18-year-old from Aberdare journeyed to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France this week to start a three-year arrangement with an outfit who were once the dominant force in French rugby, winning 10 championships between 1971 and 1984 and boasting players such as Alain Esteve, Alain Paco and Michel Palmie. You can read more about two of those legends here.
Center or wing Lewis has previously been part of Cardiff Rugby’s age-grade system and also spent time at Hartpury College.
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But now he’s venturing to within nine miles of the Mediterranean to play his rugby, to one of France’s most ancient cities.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I have signed a three-year senior academy contract and I’m excited about rugby and about living in France and sampling a different culture and meeting new people.
“The move came about through an agent. I made a highlights reel and didn’t think too much of it, but an agent got in touch to say there might be a club interested and would I mind if he sent them a few bits. I said, ‘yes, crack on’. Beziers came back two weeks later with a contract and it’s gone from there.
“It’s all a bit of a whirlwind, but I’m going with it. If I didn’t try, I’d always wonder what might have been and no-one would want to be in that situation.”
It is a bold call, mind, especially for one so young.
Lewis came through at Abercwmboi before trying his luck in age-grade rugby with Cardiff and on the college scene.
If he gets a chance in Pro D2, it could be some experience. The division is the gateway to the Top 14 in France.
It is a league that houses next-generation players — Demba Bamba, Anthony Bouthier, Thomas Ramos and Kilian Geracie have all passed through — as well as household names playing out their careers.
Inevitably, there are dramas, whether in the form of shock results, brilliant tries, sending-offs or late twists. France international Damien Chouly was quoted in Rugby World last year as saying: “It’s like Game of Thrones. Every episode there’s something happening.”
Not for nothing, then, it has been called rugby’s craziest league. For Lewis, the first step will be to confirm his promise with strong performances in training. His senior academy deal from him means no one will expect too much too soon, but if he does deliver there could be opportunities for him with the front liners at some point.
“The dream would be to make this work,” he said. “I know a lot has to happen and I’m not getting ahead of myself but I’m prepared to put in the effort and give it my best shot.
“I guess it’s about being in the right place at the right time. It’s a different opportunity. I just thought: ‘Why not?’ It’s a chance to get out and explore while doing something I love. My view was: ‘I’m still young. If it doesn’t work, well, it doesn’t work and there are always alternatives. You never know until you try.
“If it doesn’t work out, well, I have great backing from my family and a good support network. But I have the opportunity, so let’s see what I can do with it.”
It’s a refreshingly positive attitude from a youngster who by all accounts can play.
“Over the border the question was how I’d fit into a professional rugby environment at 5ft 8in and 13st 5lb, but I’m not bothered by that. If anything, it’s made me hungrier and more determined to prove people wrong,” he said.
“I want to do well and repay Beziers for having belief in me.” How the Valleys boy with a taste for adventure fares will be worth keeping an eye on.
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