Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall sees himself as English but admits Wales has a place in his heart… next year could be decision time
- Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall may have an international decision to make
- The 23-year-old will have to choose between representing England or Wales
- Randall sees himself has English but says Wales influenced his childhood
- England will look for Ben Youngs’ successor but Wales have three top number 9s
Harry Randall’s past still lingers on his lips — tinges of a Welsh accent remain in the Bristol scrum-half’s voice, telling a story of a young man now caught between two nations.
The diminutive No 9 — who stands at just 5ft 8in and weighs only 11st 5lb — went to the same school as George North and Alun Wyn Jones, was in the Scarlets academy and played at Shane Williams’ club as a kid. But he now says, after a brief pause: ‘Well, personally I do regard myself as English.
‘Wales played a big part in my childhood, though, so I’ll never forget that. I had a great upbringing there. Wales will always have a place in my heart but I do class myself as English as I was born in England and have English parents.’
Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall may have a decision to make between England and Wales
Randall is impressing for the Bristol Bears this season and his allegiances will be tested
To explain the story fully, Randall, who will be lining up against Newcastle on New Year’s Day, was born in Slough but aged four his parents — Joby and Shella -— took him and their two other sons Jake and Charlie, then eight and six, to the Amman Valley.
They still live near the Brecon Beacons, where they run their own roofing business. Having spent 13 of his 23 years in Wales, Randall feels a strong affinity with the place.
‘My first very local club was Tycroes, the village I lived in,’ Randall explains. ‘And then I played for Amman United — which is famous for being Shane Williams’ local club.
‘There was a lot of excitement around that, and it was good to be part of a little club who had someone playing at international level. It was an inspiration for us at that level. I went on to play for Kidwelly too, moving around a bit playing with a few friends. It was a good experience being down there. Very enjoyable.
‘While at Llandovery College, I was in the Scarlets academy for a few years. At school, a few shirts from Alun Wyn Jones and George North were dotted around the place. It was good inspiration to know those boys had come out of that same college and to try to follow in their footsteps to some extent.’
Randall has a strong affinity with Wales having spent 13 of his 23 years in the country
But will he? Or will the smell of the Red Rose lure him away? In 2021, his allegiances are sure to be tested.
Wales coach Wayne Pivac may have three top scrum-halves — in Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams and Rhys Webb — but he has already expressed an interest in adding Randall to his Bristolian-Welsh contingent which includes fly-half Callum Sheedy and full back Ioan Lloyd.
And England coach Eddie Jones could soon be looking to find a No 9 to replace Leicester’s Test centurion Ben Youngs, 31, and has name-dropped the Bears’ pocket rocket before.
‘Absolutely it would be a tough decision,’ Randall admits. ‘I do see myself as English, but Wales has a place in my heart.’
And have team-mates Sheedy and Lloyd been leaning on him to join them in Welsh red then?
‘Not necessarily!’ smiles Randall. ‘I’m very close with both of them so it’s nice to see them doing well, getting into the Wales squad and doing their thing.
Randall (middle) admits that his Welsh team-mates at Bristol are not convincing him at all
‘It’s awesome and thoroughly deserved for both, and good to hear their stories from camp and how they’ve enjoyed it.’
Despite playing for Wales Under 18s, Randall has spent nearly all his professional career in England.
Aged 17, he moved to Hartpury College, entering the Gloucester system, and represented England Under 20s before switching to Bristol in 2018.
It is there that he has found his niche. And Randall may be one of the smallest players in the Premiership but he packs a punch.
Randall (left) has played youth international rugby for the England Under 20s in his career
‘I always say now that it stood me in good stead to have two older brothers to rough me up a little bit,’ he adds.
‘I’m not the biggest of lads, so having those two around when I was young helped me toughen me up.
‘I’ve always been confident enough to go in and take on bigger blokes. It all stems from there.
‘Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes, so it’s a case of practising my skills and technique around the tackle area.’
Randall suits Bristol as much as his club suit him; ambitious and keen to dazzle. Going into the new year, the Bears are third in the league and still have a shot at the European quarter-finals.
Randall and the Bears are performing well in both the Premiership and European competitions
Having appeared in the Premiership play-offs at the end of last season where they were thrashed by Wasps, they know they must continue to look up. And that may mean being seen as more than just swashbuckling.
‘People see Bristol and think we throw the ball about — behind the scenes there’s a lot of detail to it,’ Randall explains.
‘We know how we want to play, our systems, sometimes we put on a show but it comes down to the detail behind it and how we influence other teams.
‘Yes, it is brilliant stuff at times, but I don’t think it’s all just about that fast-flowing rugby. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Randall (middle) hopes 2021 is the year of the Bears despite his international dilemma
‘We always want to put a show on for the fans but have to be adaptable. With the weather, you can’t always play the style you want. It’s good for us to show the different variations of our game.
‘I want us to push on as a team in the Champions Cup and Premiership — making sure we get into the play-offs with a home semi-final, going on to compete and win.
‘Whatever else comes on top of that is a massive bonus.’
So whether he wears the red of Wales or white of England, Randall hopes 2021 is the year of the Bears.
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