Joe Hawkins is a leader of Wales’ exciting young rugby generation – but he admits that his rapid rise has proved quicker than expected.
The 20-year-old Ospreys centre has made an immediate impression on Wales head coach Warren Gatland with notable footballing ability and all-round 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 Wales coaching reign.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 31, 2023
And Gatland had no hesitation in retaining him for Wales’ Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland when, along with the likes of wing Rio Dyer and flanker Jac Morgan, he again underlined his quality.
“This is a new team with players with different skills and different strengths and he brings something that is a little bit different,” Gatland said after selecting Hawkins to face Ireland.
“He is a lovely footballer and I wanted to give him the reassurance and confidence after the Australia performance to start again.”
Hawkins looks set to feature in Saturday’s appointment with Scotland at Murrayfield and he has settled seamlessly at Test level, already developing a strong midfield combination with 110 times-capped George North.
“I have always tried to be as rounded as possible. The way the game is going, you can’t be too one-dimensional,” Hawkins said.
“I like the ball-play, but you have got to be able to bash it up a little bit as well.
“On the field, it would probably be quite easy to go within yourself a little bit, but if you want to compete with the players in camp you have got to try and be bold and be vocal.
“When you come in with big characters, if you want to impact the game and training, you can’t go into your shell.
“They would rather it if you are vocal and demanding on the field, so that is what you have got to try and do.
“When you are in the under-20s, you see the senior team playing and you have always got ambitions of going on and playing for the senior team.
“I probably didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it has done.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 7, 2023
“It is a bit surreal being out there on the training field. I guess it’s just trying to take in all the experience they (senior players) have, and then put it into your game.
“All you can do is take care of business back at your region and hope you get a bit of recognition internationally.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen as quickly as this. I just focus on playing for the Ospreys, and then whatever happens, happens.”
The Calcutta Cup is coming back to Scotland.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 4, 2023
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 grandfather Brian a Wales Youth cap 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 crack on,” Hawkins added.
“They have been loving it. It’s almost like living another career through me. They are all really proud. If I am involved on Saturday, they will be making the trip up to Scotland.”
Gatland, meanwhile, could make major changes in the pack when Wales look to revive their Six Nations campaign.
British and Irish Lions trio Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau might all be under threat following a 34-10 defeat against Ireland.
Exeter forwards Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza are possible starters, with 21-year-old Tshiunza being tipped for the blindside flanker’s role.
Leicester openside Tommy Reffell is also in the selection mix, and an in-form Jac Morgan might find himself switched to number eight instead of Faletau.
They would represent huge selection calls if lock Jones, flanker Tipuric and Faletau, who have 342 Wales caps and 18 Lions Test appearances between them, are omitted, but Wales endured a miserable time up-front against Ireland.