FORMER Dorchester rugby star Harri O’Connor admits he thought it was a “wind up” when he found out he would be joining up with the Wales squad for the Six Nations.

O’Connor came off the bench on Saturday, during the closing stages against Italy in Cardiff.

O’Connor had previously travelled with the touring party to South Africa in the summer of 2022, and in November 2023 came off the bench in a non-cap game against the Barbarians in Alun Wyn Jones’ farewell game.

Playing for the Scarlets at tight head prop, he has also represented Wales at U20 level, and his professional debut came against the Ospreys in January 2022.

Harri’s younger brother Sam also plays in the front row for Scarlets, and in March 2023 they both played alongside each other against Saracens.

Reflecting on his call up, O’Connor said: “The build up or rather when I first heard I was being called up I had been out with my Dorchester mates in uni and thought it was a wind up!

“But once I was given the instructions to turn up the Vale for training it all went seamlessly, and obviously was a serious business.

“Having toured with Wales in South Africa, I knew a few of the boys, and a lot of the younger ones there I'd played with in the U20s or against them in regional rugby. The training itself was shorter but more intense and not a minute is wasted.

“I'm mainly roomed with Kemsley Mathias (loose head prop), we know each other well being at the Scarlets so it’s easy transition.

“As a young player, obviously I dreamed of playing for Wales, but never really thought I'd be a tighthead, I was always a James Hook fan.

“I loved watching him play and the style he brought to the game, I even named my dog after him! 

“When I got into camp Warren Gatland made me feel very welcome and gave me lots of encouragement.

“I’ve got some work ons for sure, but he's certainly given me the confidence to kick on now, which is what my intention is.

“I plan to firmly establish myself at the Scarlets before I start thinking about anything else though and get the stability of the regular regional games plus the URC matches.

“Wales are clearly in a rebuilding stage and like Gats said, we’ve got the players, but we just need the time.

“The boys couldn't have been more helpful in camp, and we had a really tight group. It's given me the taste now and I want more, so I’ve got to work hard.”

Dorset Echo: Harri O'Connor featured for Wales against Italy

O’Connor continued: “As for development, obviously I need to be fitter and stronger, but Gats is happy with my technique, so it’s all about getting game time now for the Scarlets and if I go well there everything else will hopefully take care of itself.

“The match day itself was everything I thought it would be and some!

“I was awake at 5am trying to be quiet around the hotel, went for a coffee, and a few of the boys had the same idea so I wasn't the only one.

“Leaving the hotel seeing my mam and dad, my grandparents, my aunties, uncles, basically my whole family, was very surreal. And the drive into Cardiff getting to the stadium with thousands of fans wishing you well is something that will stay with me forever.

“Obviously, the anthem with 73,000 people singing back was something else, something special, I honestly could just about breath never mind sing.

“I was trying to take it all in, but you have to switch on and remain switched on as any minute you could get the nod.

“When it did come, I seem to remember taking a big breath and bang, get on kid.

“First scrum, big breath and I was confident as I played against my opposite number in the U20s, I put the pressure on and he stepped around, luckily the ref saw it and awarded the penalty.

“Obviously, we didn't get the result and fair play to Italy they were better on the day, but we will be back bigger and better for sure.”

Wales were beaten 24-21, but the whole day will be one O’Connor will never forget.

Dorset Echo: Harri O'Connor featured for Wales against Italy

He said: “I was presented my cap by Terry Cobner, British and Irish Lion, former Wales player, and now President of the WRU.

“I think I was more nervous singing my song, even though I think it went well I'll stick to rugby!

“I have to say thank you to Dorchester Rugby Club for the home shirt they supplied me for the captains run with the Scarlets and to the coaches there when I was making my start playing youth rugby. And also to Mr Hughes from Thomas Hardyes, who was a Dorchester legend as a player and is a fellow Welshman, for his and the school’s kind words and encouragement.”