With Wales u20s set to face off against Scotland this week, Graham Thomas talked with Llien Morgan around the game and his pathway with the Ospreys.
Llien Morgan had a tough call to make between rugby and athletics - until the Ospreys and Welsh sprinting sensation Jeremiah Azu helped make up his mind.
Morgan – the quicksilver Wales U20s wing – will bid to add to his two tries against Ireland last week when he faces Scotland U20s at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow on Friday night, in a match that is live on S4C.
But had he taken a different path as recently as last summer, then Morgan might have pursued an athletics career on the track rather than one with a ball under his arm for Wales.
The 19-year-old Ospreys youngster is a sub-11-second man for the 100m with a best time of 10.90, and an even more impressive 21.90 for 200m.
The Neath Harrier was 200m Welsh champion at U17 level in 2019, the same summer that Azu claimed the U20 Welsh title at 60m.
Two events shaped Morgan’s thinking, however, and pushed him towards rugby. Firstly, he saw just how quick Azu was when the man who would go on to become European U23 champion was competing at the same meeting.
“I didn’t race against Jeremiah Azu, he’s a couple of years older, but I did watch him run at a couple of events,” says Morgan.
“He was, err . . . fast, something very special, just unreal. I was competing at U20s and he’d moved up to the seniors so I didn’t get the chance to run against him.
“Every millisecond counts in sprinting and he was out on his own.”
The other nudge towards the field and away from the track was when the Ospreys recognised Morgan’s talents and offered him a contract last summer.
“That was the decision point for me, really. If I hadn’t been offered a contract I would probably have stuck to athletics, but I was lucky enough to get one and I haven’t looked back.”
A 10.90 seconds 100m sprinter may not butter many parsnips in the world of senior elite athletics, but for a teenage rugby player, with good hands and skills, that’s serious wheels, as they say.
Wales played most of their game against Ireland on the back foot last week, before going down 44-27 in Colwyn Bay.
But when the ball was flicked and spun out towards Morgan from a highly talented Wales three-quarter line, then Morgan twice showed the Irish tacklers a clean pair of heels.
“Poetry in motion” was the sought-after verdict of an impressed Sonny Bill Williams on Twitter.
Choosing rugby over athletics has meant adapting his body shape to withstand the rigours of regular physical contact and the Ospreys were quick to put Morgan on a diet plan to increase his power.
“I don’t think I’ve lost any speed, but I’m bigger and more powerful and hopefully I can take that onto the field.”
Morgan is currently with the Ospreys academy, but has also had opportunities with Swansea in the Indigo Premiership and for Swansea University, in the BUCS Super Rugby tournament under their coach, Hugh Gustafson.
But the chance to represent Wales in a second sport has been one he has seized with both hands.
“Not many people get to play for their country, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
“Ireland were tough, but it’s definitely there for us if we dig deep enough in every game. I think we can come away with some good results, starting against Scotland.”
If Wales do gain their first victory of the campaign, then Morgan is again likely to have got on the scoresheet with coach Byron Hayward stressing the pace of the wing is a big part of their weaponry.
Scotland will a big test as they went close to beating England before going down 41-36, but Hayward says: “The challenge for the team is to get the ball to Llien in space. It’s that simple.
“We managed to do that a couple of times last weekend. The guy is rapid, but he can also play rugby and he has a good all-round skill-set.
“He kicks well, he is good under the high ball, and he reads the game well, too. I am encouraging him to get off his wing and get involved more in the game, particularly when we are close to the opposition line.
“We have so much pace in this back line. Everyone in there is capable of scoring 50-metre tries. We have to use that.”
S4C: Friday, 6.45pm - Clwb Rygbi Rhyngwladol: Scotland U20 v Wales U20
Live coverage from Scotstoun, Glasgow of Scotland v Wales in the 2023 Under 20s Six Nations. English commentary available.