By Reece Chambers
After starting in crucial Rugby World Cup knockout matches, young Welsh prospect Owen Watkin has described the tournament in Japan as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity.’
The 23-year-old was one of three centres selected by Warren Gatland, but injury to Jonathan Davies gave Watkin his chance to showcase his ability on world rugby’s biggest stage.
“To represent your country at a World Cup is something you dream of as a young boy growing up. I felt massively privileged to be able to go out to Japan,” Watkin exclusively told Gair Rhydd Sport.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play out in Japan at the World Cup.”
Having only previously represented Wales 16 times, Warren Gatland’s selection of Watkin showed the belief Welsh rugby holds in the centre.
However, with world-class competition for a starting place from Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes, Watkin was aware that he would need to wait for his opportunity. That opportunity came at a crucial time – against France in the quarter-final after Davies aggravated a recurring knee injury in training.
“Obviously it was disappointing for Jonathan [Davies] to not play the game, but it was a great opportunity for me and a dream come true to start in a World Cup quarter-final.
“To start that France game in a World Cup quarter-final was one of the highlights of my career so far. Before that I had to do what I could from the bench but then I finally had my opportunity then.
“I think I’ve shown that I am capable of handling it as a starting centre and professional rugby player.
“You try and prove yourself, and do whatever you can for the team in that amount of time.”
For Watkin, having Davies as a mentor has allowed him to fully reach his potential.
“He’s been one of the best centres in world rugby for the last five or six years. He’s a brilliant player and I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can from him to make myself a better player.
“Even though he was disappointed to not be playing, he was really supportive and wanted to bring the best out of me.
As well as Davies, Watkin also paid tribute to Gatland in his final campaign as Wales boss.
“He’s changed Welsh rugby completely with everyone around the world holding high expectations of us. We’re expected to do well and be successful and I think Warren has embedded us in that as players and as a country.
With it being Gatland’s last campaign, there was added importance on every game. That certainly showed in the semi-final defeat to South Africa with emotional tributes to the New Zealander post-match.
However, Watkin noted that Gatland’s final words in the dressing room after the defeat showed the true belief he has in the Welsh squad.
“He said that he could never criticise our effort and the things we put our body through just to get that win. All twenty-three of the boys tried their very best and it just wasn’t meant to be on the day.
Looking towards the future, Watkin wants to continue developing and take his opportunity in the starting XV.
“I’ve got to keep working hard and doing what I do best. I’ve just got to be patient and I’m sure my time to start with Wales will come as long as I keep working hard.”