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The new beginning of Aaron Wainwright, Welsh rugby’s story of 2019 who then found things harder

For the best part of last year, Aaron Wainwright was largely defined for his rapid ascension in rugby.

Whenever he was mentioned, his name usually preceded or succeeded by the narrative of where he had come from. His background playing football, his recent life as a university student, his virtual obscurity as a rugby player.

It was done so to remind everyone of his remarkable story, to qualify just how far the young Wainwright had come from as he went deep into the knockout stages of a World Cup with Wales – less than a year after his debut.

However, once you’ve scaled the heights long enough, people start to take notice.

The narrative around Wainwright is no longer one of where he came from, but rather where he’s going next.

On Friday, he starts a bumper few months that begins with a Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bristol Bears and will likely finish with a packed autumn calendar of six Wales Test matches.

He’s no longer an unknown quantity to oppositions – something that makes life that little bit harder at Test level.

After last year’s antics, going under the radar isn’t so simple. So how does he manage being the focus of more attention?

“I hope they’re not targeting me!” he jokes ahead of the Bristol clash.

“But if they are, I’ll just stick to my normal game, do what I do well and try get one up on my opposition number.

“That will hopefully help the team.”

In truth, Wainwright probably stopped being under the radar a long time ago. The moment he broke French hearts in the quarter-final with a man-of-the-match performance – notably running in a score from about 45 metres out – was probably the moment his narrative changed.

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Of course, the natural follow-up narrative in sport whenever there is success is the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’.

For those who haven’t seen more than the five minutes of Match of the Day usually required to hear it, the cliche is used to describe a team or individual who have performed significantly worse in their second campaign after a promising, even exceptional, breakthrough season.

Now, to qualify for ‘second season syndrome’, you first have to excel in the first place – as Wainwright undeniably did.

In that regards, perhaps it was inevitable given his rapid rise from virtual unknown to Wales’ World Cup find, there would be something of a drop off in levels afterwards.

While most would deem it somewhat harsh to call Wainwright’s post-World Cup form ‘second season syndrome’ worthy, he is the first to admit his form dropped.

However, the fact that his second season was disrupted due to coronavius – splitting it into two distinct parts – has bizarrely offered him some respite.

“It’s been surreal,” he admits about his follow-up season to last year’s incredible rise.

“The break came at a good time for me. I wasn’t struggling, but I wasn’t playing my best rugby after the World Cup.

“I played in the Six Nations, but it wasn’t my best rugby. So the break has given my body a bit of time to recover and I’m full of energy now and looking forward to the season ahead.”

“I had a bit of time of to reflect and recover. Late mornings and a spot of fitness, it was nice to have a chillout.”

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Despite the new season being very much on the agenda, the current one isn’t quite over yet. Wainwright returned to action with the Dragons for the two derbies last month and now their European campaign will see them through.

The 22-year-old knows beating Bristol at Ashton Gate will be no easy feat – whether that’s stopping their coast-to-coast attack or trying to get one over on their array of back-row talents such as uncapped Welshman Dan Thomas.

But, regardless of all that, Wainwright believes the Dragons are ready for springing an upset and going further in Europe.

“The feeling is it’s all about us now,” he says. “If we focus on ourselves, there’s no reason we won’t go through.”

Above all, for Wainwright, having hit the reset button, he’s ready for whatever the coming months have to throw at him.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” he added.

“I always try to take every chance I’m given with both hands. Just because I wasn’t playing my best, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying to play my best rugby.

“It just wasn’t happening for me at that time.

“But the time off has done me good.

“I’m looking forward to the next two months – starting with the Dragons. Anything that comes after that is an added bonus.”

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