When Welsh rugby players leave for clubs in England, their departures are often cloaked in a language of fear: the dread that a talent drain is sucking the life out of the sport in their homeland.

Josh Adams is different.

This is not someone who made his name at a Welsh region before being lured away by the lucre of foreign leagues – but rather a young player who tried to make the grade in Wales, only to fall through the net before eventually rebuilding his career over the border.

For that second chance, the Grand Slam winner has Worcester to thank.

Adams is sat pitchside at Worcester’s Sixways home, admiring this sun-kissed little stadium before making his final appearance here against Saracens on Saturday.

“I haven’t thought about it too much but, when the time comes when the final whistle goes and I get presented with my leaving gift, there might be a bit of emotion, but I’ll try and hold the tears back,” the Cardiff Blues-bound Wales wing says.

“This place has been fantastic for me. It’s been my home for four seasons. It’s somewhere I’ll hold closely to my heart and I’m definitely going to miss it.

“They gave me the opportunity when there was nothing else for me. I have to be extremely grateful.

“Without a doubt, this club has made me the player I am today.”

Worcester will miss Adams as well. The 24-year-old has scored 38 tries in 64 appearances for the Warriors, with last month’s hat-trick against Wasps helping them secure their Premiership survival.

He has not always played such a prominent role, though. Adams’ career is one he has had to forge the hard way.

Raised in Hendy, Carmarthenshire, Adams’ performances for Coleg Sir Gar earned him a two-year academy contract with the Scarlets but, unable to break into the region’s first team, he mostly played for semi-professional club side Llanelli.

Once his two years were up at Parc y Scarlets, Adams was not offered a new deal and, with no other Welsh side showing an interest, he says “it was a case of looking over the bridge”.

No games, no hot water

Worcester gave Adams a lifeline but, even after making that move in 2015, he found his progress stunted.

With his route to the first team blocked and without an affiliated semi-pro club like he had in Llanelli, Adams left on loan to play regularly and prove himself.

“Cinderford were in National League One (the third tier of English rugby) at the time and they were struggling, so they were more than happy to get some boys down and give them game-time,” he recalls.

“It was quite funny going back to grassroots because they’re all amateur boys there. Playing in National One was a new league to me, going to places like Tynedale and Hull Ionians away.

“Cinderford’s home ground is called Dockham Road. Going into their changing rooms on a Thursday night in January, it was cold, the radiator wasn’t working and sometimes the hot water didn’t work.

“Small things like that you do take for granted at times. The effort and commitment the boys put in at that level – full-time jobs and training in the evenings – is excellent.

“It did make me appreciate [what I’ve got] and made me work harder to get where I am now.”

Hardened by his time at Cinderford, Adams returned to Worcester before being loaned out again, this time at a higher level with Championship side Nottingham.

But before he had time to impress for his new side, injuries prompted Worcester to recall their young Welshman for a pre-season friendly in Munster.

Adams did not feature in that match and, despite not getting a chance to play in that season’s opening fixture with Saracens at Twickenham, he finally got his break at Bath on 17 September, 2016, making his debut as a first-half injury replacement for Dean Hammond.

“You definitely need a bit of luck, but then you’ve got to take your chance when it comes,” says Adams.

Adams certainly seized his opportunity, nailing down a place in the first team and finishing the season with 13 tries from 23 appearances.

By December 2017, Adams was the Premiership’s top try scorer and catching the eye of Wales head coach Warren Gatland, who named the Worcester wing in his 2018 Six Nations squad.

A ‘mad’ first year with Wales

Adams was something of an unknown quantity for some Wales fans less familiar with the domestic English game, but he soon looked at home at Test level with some assured displays during that campaign and then in Argentina the following summer.

“Mad really,” Adams grins when he looks back on his first 15 months in the Wales set-up.

“When you first come into the Six Nations squad, you’re very nervous. You know a few of the lads, but I remember my first day walking into the team room and I was one of the last in there.

“Everyone was in there eating food and, even though they’re not looking at you, it feels as if all the eyes are on you. It’s that daunting feeling.

“But now I feel much more relaxed in that environment and I feel like I can perform in that environment. That does take time.”

If his first season with Wales was a settling period, Adams’ second campaign was when he truly announced himself on the world stage.

In Wales’ opening win over France, Adams lit the fuse for an inspired Wales comeback with a fleet-footed break which led to Tomos Williams’ try.

Adams then crossed for a try of his own the following week in Italy – but it was his role in the triumph over England which etched his name into Welsh rugby lore.

In the 78th minute at a deafeningly loud Principality Stadium, Wales had edged into a 16-13 lead in an utterly absorbing, draining encounter between two sides still with Grand Slam aspirations intact.

Wales’ fly-half Dan Biggar sent a booming crossfield kick towards the far corner, where Adams – his head bandaged from an earlier scrape – leapt above Elliot Daly, juggled the ball on his way down, clutched it to his chest and then stretched over for a match-winning score.

“It’s probably the second most special moment of career, after standing on the podium after winning the Grand Slam against Ireland,” he says.

“The importance of the game against England, everybody was fired up and it was my first try at the Principality Stadium.

“It was a special moment and one I’ve watched back a few times.”

Six Nations stardom

Wales fans would not begrudge Adams if he was to watch it every day for the rest of his life, but his next try – a dazzling individual effort against Scotland – was arguably an even stronger contender for a personal showreel.

Those scores, together with a typically disciplined and wholehearted display in the Grand Slam-clinching win over Ireland, saw Adams nominated for the Six Nations Player of the Tournament award.

That accolade went to his captain Alun Wyn Jones, who said moments after the Ireland win that Wales had “put a target on their backs” for the World Cup later this year.

It is a view Adams shares. After a career like Jones’, he knows better than most that you cannot take anything for granted.

But what his long road to the top has also taught Adams is the power of belief: with the requisite application and determination, anything is possible.

“We’ve got a lot of expectations on us with how well we’ve done in the autumn and Six Nations, but that’s something we’re going to relish,” says Adams.

“We’ve put a target on our backs. People are going to want to stop that unbeaten run we’ve built up. That’s fine, that’s going to happen – it’s just about focusing on ourselves.

“We don’t look too far ahead because that’s when you get caught up in things.

“Our focus is making sure we top that pool first, then the quarter-final, semi-final and, who knows, potentially a World Cup final.”

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