Being compared to a Wales and Lions icon might be a weight around the neck of a young player.
But Tommy Reffell evidently subscribes to the idea that flattery’s all right so long as you don’t inhale.
The young Leicester Tiger, part of the Wales Under-20s squad at the Junior World Championships, has been spoken of in the same breath as Sam Warburton. But talk to him and he gives no impression of having even heard of such comparisons.
“Sam Warburton’s someone I watched over the years,” says Reffell over the phone from Argentina.
“He was an excellent player.
“But I like to watch all kinds of back-row forwards and take tips off them.”
But the very fact that some are seeing Warburton traits in the 20-year-old from Pencoed underlines how much potential he has. He is tough, strong, puts his body on the line and points the way forward. “It’s a bit clichéd,” Dave Wilks, academy boss at Leicester, has told WalesOnline, “but Tommy’s not dissimilar to Sam in the way he leads, plays, is physical and gets over the ball. He also plays on the edge in defence.
“But he’s also his own player and never gives less than 100 percent.
“He’s an absolute warrior of a kid.”
You don’t need to be a modern-day Carwyn James to understand where Wilks was coming from.
Against Argentina Under-20s on Tuesday, Reffell secured a number of turnovers and made 14 tackles. He is a player who is prepared to put himself in harm’s way and he doesn’t wait for others to do unglamorous jobs. “I thought he played really well,” says his old PE master at Pencoed Comprehensive School, Simon King.
“He’s tuned in to the requirements of his position and technically he did everything right.
“Tommy is getting better as a player and a lot of that is linked to his physical development.
“I just think he’s progressing nicely. He is leader who good over the ball and he’s skilful with it.
“I texted him after the game to congratulate him on his performance and it wasn’t long before I had reply. That’s the kind of person he is, unassuming and someone who keeps his feet on the ground.”
So how did it come about that Reffell ended up making his way in the game from an English base rather than a Welsh one? He was part of the Ospreys set-up, after all, featuring five times for their team in the east of the region, alongside a then 14-year-old Harri Morgan.
What’s the story? How did he decamp to Leicester before he was old enough to even drive a car on a public road?
“I had just turned 16 when I made the decision,” he says.
“It wasn’t long after the Lions tour to Australia and I had been introduced to them on the back of my performances for Wales Under-16s.
“I went up to see how good the facilities were and have a look at their players training.
“It was a bit of a no-brainer — I felt had to go and experience it.
“They came down and had a look and Simon King, my PE teacher in school, put in a word. I went up for a few weeks of training and it all kicked off from there.
“I’m really enjoying it. They’re a good club with a lot of history and while results may not have gone the right way over the past couple of years, there’s a great bunch of boys there and the staff are in place to turn the situation around.”
Does he ever see himself coming back to Wales? At that point the phone line goes haywire. Is it the Leicester Tigers branch of MI5 doing their worst? The voice from South America fades and then seems to leave the line completely before returning. Fair play, Reffell doesn’t seem the type to duck a tricky question.
“I’ve recently signed a new deal with Leicester,” he says.
“I’m happy where I am. They have always looked after me and I owe a lot to them, but you never know what can happen in the future.”
Callum Sheedy, Cardiff-born and educated at Corpus Christie High School in the Welsh capital, has pulled on the England shirt after qualifying on residence grounds, but Reffell bats aside a query about whether he might go down a similar road, saying: “I haven’t thought about that.
Nor is he going to dwell on the 60-cap rule and all its complexities.
Here’s the deal: should he feature for Wales at senior level he could be required to play this side of the Severn Bridge if he wants to continue on the Test scene. Unless his name is Tomas Francis. In which case he can just carry on playing beyond the regions. But that’s another story.
“I’m not looking too far ahead,” says Reffell.
“I’ll take every year as it comes and just focus on my own development and getting better as a player.
“I just want to concentrate on myself and improve myself as a player and as a person.”
Reffell enjoys going back to his home village of Pencoed. “I do miss it; there again I get to see my family and friends pretty often still,” he says.
“It’s not as if I’m 10,000 miles away. I’m only over the Severn Bridge.”
Of Pencoed RFC, he says: “You only have to step into Pencoed rugby club to see all the jerseys on the wall.
“They’re all there.
“It was like a second home for me growing up and I really enjoyed playing for them.
“Every time I go there they welcome me as if I’d never gone away.”
Another ex-Pencoed Comprehensive School pupil, Sam Costelow, is also on Leicester’s books, with the No. 10 studying at Oakham. Some have raised eyebrows at the idea of young Welsh players leaving the scene in Wales to pursue opportunities in England, but King, head of physical education at the school, begs to differ.
“My job as a teacher is to help pupils make the most of opportunities in life,” he says.
“It is to develop them as people and help them become as rounded as possible.
“Ultimately, the decisions are down to their parents and as a school we are supportive whatever choices they make.
“It is early days, but of course I want to see Tommy and Sam playing for Wales.
“Being part of Leicester’s set-up shouldn’t affect that.
“The experience they are acquiring now will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.”
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Reffell says his father Gary has been a huge support over the years: “He’s a brilliant role model who has always had my best interests at heart.
“He’s let me be who I want to be and has never tried to push me into certain things or critique me too much. He played in the back row, the same as me, and knows the game.
“But he’s just let me crack on and get on with it.”
On the evidence against Los Pumitas, Reffell junior is thriving.
Maybe one day he will return to Wales.
But not just yet.
Welsh rugby will just have to be patient.