It should have been the most memorable day of WillGriff John’s rugby career.

But, to borrow a line from PG Wodehouse, unseen in the background, fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing glove.

Wales’ 2020 Six Nations game with Scotland was belatedly — and rightly — called off amid the coronavirus pandemic, snatching a first Test cap away from the front-row colossus.

READ MORE : Welsh player’s ‘astounding’ snub

When the international game resumed the following autumn, the big man wasn’t even in the squad.

Anyone in any doubt about sport’s highs and lows should have asked 28-year-old John about them.

He still hasn’t been capped.

Attending a media conference at his new club, the Scarlets this week, he faced a flood of questions about how fortune turned so dramatically against him close on 18 months ago. One of the queries was how difficult had the situation been to deal with.

“It was very difficult, being the last game of the campaign and pretty much the country shut down days after,” said John.

“So, yeah, it was very difficult to deal with.

“But soon after I was back with my family.

“It was a lot easier to comprehend, then. Returning to my partner and having her by my side really helped.”

“It’s very disappointing but it is what it is.”

One of the reasons why John switched from Sale Sharks to the Scarlets in the summer was to improve his Test chances.

Some had assumed the immensely strong tight-head might win have earned a call in June when Wales were without the injured Tomas Francis. But they didn’t summon the ex-Sale man, instead using Dillon Lewis and Leon Brown in the Tests against Canada and Argentina. Against the Pumas, the scrums didn’t go especially well. In fact, at times in the second Test, especially, the Welsh set-piece creaked alarmingly.



WillGriff John pictured during the 2020 Six Nations campaign

The assumption might have been that someone from the Welsh set-up would have picked up the phone and said to John: “Welcome back to Wales, mate. We understand your frustrations, we have you in mind.”

Has such a call happened?

“No, not really,” said John. “They’ve known for a long time that I was going to come here. But not recently, no.”

Sale’s then team boss Steve Diamond said he had been “astounded” when Wales didn’t pick John in their squad for the Tests last autumn.

Such is life.

John will just have to put together an unanswerable case for Wales selection this term.

He certainly has the physical attributes.

Last year he featured near the head of a list stating the bench press records of 47 elite players rugby players. Top of the pile was then Ospreys prop Gheorge Gajion, who apparently could push up 230kg.

John was on there as well, with a figure of 210kg next to his name.

He is long said to be one of the game’s most powerful players, with Popeye-standard strength.

Are the bench-press stories myth or reality?

Well, it turns out he should have been up with Gajion.

“My record when I was about 22 was about 230 kilos, so it is reality,” John said, matter of factly.

“I’m genetically gifted in that sense.”

Maybe playing alongside Lions Ken Owens and Wyn Jones in the front row at the Scarlets will help his Wales chances, too, though he is conscious that there’s competition for the region’s tight-head shirt in the shape of the redoubtable Samson Lee and also Javan Sebastian.

But he’s relished the summer so far.

“I’m really enjoying the training,” he said.

“I’m enjoying the high level of skill and the pressure Dwayne (Peel) is putting us under.

“I’m not sure what the Scarlets’ way is.

“But the way we are being coached it’s all going to be pretty quick and lively rugby.

“There are a lot of good players here, especially in the front row. It’s a good thing because the boys will keep pushing each other to get better and better.”

Why did he move to Wales? “For the opportunity to come back home, firstly,” he replied, “because of my family and to play for the team that’s probably been the most successful in Wales over the last few years.

“And to push on and play for Wales — that’s a big part of coming down here.”

He sees himself as much more than a powerful scrummager, classing himself as a good ball-carrier and an especially good defender.

But, beyond the Scarlets, the challenge is to win that elusive Test cap and then push on for a World Cup place in 2023. “Yeah, definitely,” he agreed. “There’s going to be a lot of rugby played by the time of the next World Cup.

“So it’s definitely something that I’m aiming for, to be involved as soon as possible within the Welsh squad and keep pushing for that World Cup spot.”

Most will surely wish him well.

If ever a man deserved a change of fortune it is the Scarlets’ freshly acquired No. 3.

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