No split loyalties for Wales lock Ball

Pacer is now plying his trade in the boilerhouse of the Welsh pack

No split loyalties for Wales lock Ball PHOTO COURTESY: AP

In a different world, Jake Ball could have been handing his Australian baggy green cap to the umpire before steaming in to bowl a bouncer at England all-rounder Ben Stokes in the Ashes.

Instead the 28-year-old born in England to a Welsh father who emigrated to Australia when Ball was 17 is now plying his trade in the boilerhouse of the Welsh pack.

There will be no split loyalties, Ball insists, when Wales take on Australia in their second Pool D match at the Rugby World Cup at Tokyo on Sunday.

"My family's out in Perth," Ball explained Thursday. "My father's flying up this week from Perth to Japan, which makes it even more exciting. Dad's Welsh through and through so he'll be in his Welsh jersey and I'm sure the rest of the family will be in Wales jerseys as well."

Asked whether a Wallaby jersey might sneak into the picture, Ball was adamant.

"No chance, no chance, not with me around anyway!" Ball said.

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Standing an imposing 1.97m (6ft 6in) tall and weighing in at 121kg (19st 1lb), Ball had all but walked into a professional cricket contract in Australia.

A fearsome fast bowler, Ball was clocked at more than 80mph at the age of 17.

He was coached at Fremantle District Cricket Club by former Test star Geoff Marsh and his peers included future Australian cricketers Mitchell and Shaun Marsh, sons of Geoff, as well as James Pattinson.

Shortly after his arrival in Perth, Ball was opening the bowling for the Western Australia under-19 team and asked to join a fast-track training programme at the Queensland centre of excellence, a nursery for future Test cricketers.

One day in the field, Ball had an "epiphany," he told the Daily Telegraph after his arrival in Wales in 2012.

He decided to walk away and instead try to make it as a professional rugby union player.

His transition to top-flight rugby was smooth, fast-tracked from Perth's Palmyra club to train with the Western Force before his Welsh roots attracted interest from the Llanelli-based Scarlets.

Ball has gone on to win 37 caps for Wales, a robust player who was man-of-the-match in his team's opening 43-14 Pool D victory over Georgia last week despite playing most of the game with a broken nose.

"It's stopped bleeding now," Ball joked. "That will teach me to tackle with my face!"

Wales coach Warren Gatland has arrived in Japan with several questions surrounding his lock options.

Cory Hill has had to return home after failing to recover from a stress fracture in his leg, his place being taken by veteran Bradley Davies. And Adam Beard was a late arrival in Japan after undergoing surgery to remove his appendix.

Ball himself has also suffered a couple of lengthy lay-offs through injury over the last few seasons.

"For me it's just a case of trying to stay fit and this period's just been great for me and I'm just trying to play as good a rugby as possible," he said. "I feel in a good place and I've been given the confidence to go out and do what I do really.”