Rugby World Cup 2011: Rhys Priestland enjoys Wales challenge

Rhys Priestland
Priestland has won just six caps since making his Wales debut earlier this year

Rhys Priestland hopes to guide Wales to their best World Cup finish since 1987 just six years after doubting if he would be a professional rugby player.

Priestland started the year as Wales' fourth choice number 10 behind Stephen Jones, James Hook and Dan Biggar.

But the Scarlets fly-half has repaid Warren Gatland's faith when the Wales coach needed help as Jones was injured and Hook was needed at full-back.

"I went off to Bristol University to study economics," recalled Priestland.

"And I didn't think rugby would happen.

"But I got called into the Scarlets academy, and they offered me a 12-month contract. I was 18 or so at the time.

"I did a year in Bristol, but because of my rugby commitments I moved.

"I did complete the course and obtained a 2:2. I only attended a handful of lectures, so it was quite hard work, but my parents and grandparents would never let me drop out.

"I wanted to be a banker in London. I am lucky things have worked out in rugby because it's something I enjoy doing.

"If it hadn't worked out, I don't know what I would be doing - working in a bank somewhere, perhaps."

Priestland's performance in Wales' opening World Cup defeat to defending champions South Africa earned universal praise.

And the 24-year-old's two second-half penalties against Samoa on Sunday rescued Wales following an interval deficit as the win saved Wales' World Cup campaign.

Priestland has won only six international caps since his debut against Scotland in February but he has shown he is now Wales' playmaker.

Such has been Priestland's emergence in New Zealand, that he is likely to keep one of his major career influences in an unfamiliar supporting role.

Stephen Jones, who has been out for six weeks with a calf injury, requires one more appearance to break Gareth Thomas' Wales record of 100 caps.

That landmark feat could be achieved in their third Pool D game against Namibia in New Plymouth on Monday.

But Priestland will be difficult to dislodge beyond that game, with Fiji and then potential quarter-final opponents Ireland waiting.

"He has 100 caps and a lot of experience, and he is a big leader in this group," said Priestland, of his Scarlets colleague. "He is back fit now, so we will see what happens.

"I can't speak highly enough of Steve. Ever since he came back from Clermont Auvergne and I started with the Scarlets, we would be out kicking the same time and he'd come over and have a word, telling me where I could improve.

"He is like that with all the youngsters at the Scarlets. He has been great. He demands the best out of people - excellence."

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