Cameron Winnett is the poster boy for Wales squad’s youthful rejuvenation under Warren Gatland

Cardiff player has twice seen defeat to Ireland as an Under-20, but he is hoping third time’s a charm if Wales head coach picks him for Saturday’s game at the Aviva

Cameron Winnett is hoping that the third time’s a charm if picked to play for Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (2.15pm). The 21-year-old fullback’s previous experiences against Ireland teams, both in the Under-20 Six Nations Championship, ended in heavy defeats.

The Cardiff player first donned a Welsh jersey (he missed out the Under-18 age-grade due to Covid-19) against Richie Murphy’s Irish 20s at Musgrave Park as a teenager in 2022, a game that culminated in a 53-5 defeat for the visitors. Despite the painful nature of the loss, Winnett recalled: “It was a very proud moment for me and my family out in Ireland against a very good Irish team.

“I wasn’t nervous but the first time putting that shirt on was what I’d dreamt of as a little kid.”

He started again in the Welsh 20s the following year, but Ireland pulled away in the second half at Colwyn Bay to a 44-27 victory.


Winnett, though, stood out, his footwork, acceleration and offloading a catalyst for a couple of early Welsh tries. His attacking prowess was a notable aspect of his play in those early days; his ability to sit down defenders and leave them clutching the air as he shimmied past was striking.

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Despite his slender physique, he was robust enough to deal with high ball duties and was authoritative and shrewd in his tackling as he made some great reads defensively. He had maintained those qualities in transitioning to the senior ranks.

He caught the eye with Cardiff initially and, after just 15 matches in senior rugby, Wales head coach Warren Gatland handed him his debut in the opening Six Nations match, the 27-26 rollercoaster defeat to Scotland. The New Zealander has a track record in backing youngsters or novices, as former Ireland players will attest.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the first Six Nations tournament. Gatland, the then Ireland coach, picked five new caps in the second match of the competition: John Hayes, current Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby, Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara and Shane Horgan – all of whom did okay for themselves in Test rugby, it’s fair to say.

Ireland had been beaten 50-18 at Twickenham when Gatland plumped for the quintet of new faces who helped their country to a 44-22 win over Scotland at Lansdowne Road. The New Zealander has never been afraid to put his faith in young players and that is very much in evidence once again as he seeks to rebuild after the World Cup.

Winnett was one of two new caps for the Scotland match, the other his former 20s team-mate and best friend in the squad Alex Mann, the blindside flanker who went on to score a try off the bench and then added another against England in his first start.

Gatland was forthright in his praise. “Cameron Winnett is just a lovely footballer and I think he’s going to develop into a quality international player in the future. He’s young and there’ll be no pressure on him.

“We’ve been impressed with the way that he’s trained.”

Winnett lived up to the billing and followed up with another decent performance in the narrow defeat to England last time out. A Liverpool supporter, he played football and rugby until his mid-teens until faced with a choice, and plumped for the latter, joining the Cardiff academy.

His club coach, Matt Sherratt, explained that the fullback is quiet off the pitch, doesn’t talk very much, but his communication on it is improving as he matures. “Where Cam has been really good is he doesn’t say an awful lot, but he goes about his business and trains well.

“Genuinely, every session is consistent. His work off the pitch is really good. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Dan Fish for that, he sits with him and goes through a lot of his positional and backfield stuff. But he just doesn’t make a fuss, Cam. He just gets on with it.”

Winnett has also impressed Sherratt with his temperament. “He doesn’t get knocked by the mistake. If you play somewhere like hooker, 10 or 15, that’s massive as you’re in a position where you’ll make the odd mistake that is magnified. But it’s credit to Cam, that’s his character, it’s not anything that’s been coached into him.

“He’s just a pretty level-headed kid. Nothing seems to fluster him on or off the pitch. He’s not one to get ahead of himself. He just goes about his work.”

Winnett faces what promises to be his toughest assignment on the basis of Ireland’s current form, their ability to control the ball, and their attacking shape and potency, and the likelihood of an early aerial assault, but the aptitude that he has displayed so far in his senior career suggests he has the capacity to cope. Saturday will flesh out that prognosis.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer