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The Welsh second row who left his region for semi-pro rugby only to re-emerge as a Wales No.8 contender

James Ratti is the first to admit it was a very tough decision.

There he was, plying his trade as a professional rugby player with the Ospreys.

He could potentially have stayed on with the region. But on the back of limited opportunities and an uncertain future, he opted to take an unusual step.

Leaving the Liberty Stadium, he moved down to semi-professional level by joining Cardiff RFC in the summer of 2019.

It was a bold and risky decision as it could have spelled the end of his career as a pro.

But he backed himself to get noticed and force his way into the mix with the Blues, and that’s precisely what happened.

After impressing in the Premiership, he was handed a regional contract in January 2020 and has gone on to establish himself as a regular fixture in the match-day squad, covering the back five of the scrum.

Now his career has taken another turn, with Blues director of rugby Dai Young employing him at No. 8.

It has proved a masterstroke.

The 23-year-old has been a revelation in the role, providing priceless go-forward, putting in 36 carries across the three Welsh Rainbow Cup derbies, making 99 metres.

Such has been the impact he’s made, his name has started to be mentioned in an international context.

Big, powerful, ball-carrying No. 8s don’t grow on trees in Wales, so when you’ve got someone who is 6ft 4ins and 18st 8lbs crashing his way upfield, it’s going to catch the eye.-

He is now able to look back on that big call he made a couple of years ago as one which has absolutely paid off.

“It was a tough one at the time because there was that whole potential merger with the Scarlets,” he recalls.

“We didn’t know what was going on. People didn’t know what their budgets were and I was left waiting and waiting.

“It got to the point then when I felt I had to make the decision myself.

“It was a very tough decision for me at the time.

“I didn’t necessarily know it was going to be the right one.

“That was in the back of my mind.

“I had always wanted to be a professional rugby player. That’s the dream, isn’t it?

“I just don’t think you can accept you are not going to make it. You have just got to get in the mindset of doing everything you can to impress.

“If it is by taking a step back to Premiership rugby to try and get your face in the door, then you have just got to do everything you can with a positive mindset.

“Obviously, with hindsight now, it’s one of the best things I’ve done – getting those regular Premiership games, training up here.

“I think there’s a path there for a lot of players. There are a lot of talented players in the Premiership.

“As far as younger boys go, playing in that league and getting games under your belt is very important. It was obviously brilliant for me.

“I feel like I made the right decision and I am very happy where I am now.”

He’s even happier to be operating at No. 8, which sees his rugby journey come full circle.

That was where he started out when he was coming up through the ranks with Dunvant RFC, where his father Leigh was a coach.

“I was always an 8 up until U16s,” he explained. “Then I just transitioned to the second row.”

The former Llandovery College student was signed by the Ospreys in 2016 and capped by Wales at U18s and U20s level.

But regional game-time was restricted, with much of his rugby coming with Aberavon and Swansea.

“It was tough because I was never quite the tallest lock,” he said.

“There are some giants about there these days, especially at this level.”

Now, just as with his career, he has gone back to go forward, heading into the breakaway department with the Blues.

“I’ve played a bit of back row this season at 6, so I knew I could do it and I’ve just been given the chance at No. 8 the last few weeks,” he said.

“The switch back isn’t something I necessarily expected, but when Dai said he would be looking to give me a shot there, I bit his hand off. It’s something I’ve thrown myself into.”

Ratti, who continues at No. 8 away to Munster on Friday night, relishes the ball-carrying aspect of the role.

“That’s what it’s all about for me,” he said.

“It’s my favourite part of the game, just getting hands on the ball and getting some go-forward off 10, off 9.

“When Dai told me, my first thought was ‘I have to get my hands on the ball and up my carry stats’.

“It’s a different game to playing in the row. There is a little bit less taken out of the legs scrum-time.

“The expectation is you’ve got to get your hands on the ball and give go-forward. If you are not doing that, then there are boys who will step in and will.

“I need to show I have got a bit of gas as well. I don’t just want to be off 9, trucking up all the time. I want to show there’s a bit more to me than that.

“But No. 8s these days have got to be ball carriers, so that’s been my main focus.”

Looking at the Rainbow Cup challenge that lies ahead in Limerick, Ratti said: “You know what you are in for when you go to Munster.

“It’s going to be a big physical battle and a big test for us.

“We are going to try and play rugby like we do, but it’s also a chance for us as a forward pack to show what we are about.

“We are not just a team that’s going to throw it about. When our forwards need to step up and take control of games, we can.

“The type of game we play is very expansive, but our forwards have got a point to prove, that if needs be we can take teams on up front as well, not just the backs.

“We know what Munster are going to bring. As a pack, it’s not just about going out there to match them, but trying to dominate them for once.”

Reflecting finally on his career path, he said: “I am exactly where I want to be.

“I feel I have made the right decision.

“I am very happy where I am, playing in my old favourite position and doing what I love to do, which is getting my hands on the ball and going forward.”

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