THINGS you never thought you’d see, number 6,999: A former Newport County AFC academy player lining up for Wales in a World Cup semi-final.

Aaron Wainwright will do just that this week out in Japan and he’s certainly laid down a challenge to his old friend Regan Poole.

When the pair were playing alongside each other as kids, first for Cardiff City and then for the Exiles youth teams, they no doubt dreamed of representing Wales in a football World Cup.

But life has worked out rather differently for Wainwright since he gave up on the round-ball game and switched to rugby just five years ago.

“I was with Cardiff City from under-10s to under-16s, then I got released and joined Newport County,” he told the Argus last year.

“I got offered a scholarship to stay on there but didn’t want to move school and stayed at Bassaleg.

“I didn’t really have anything to do then and my mates were playing rugby on Saturdays at the local club, Whiteheads, so I joined them.”

The Bassaleg boy’s rise has been meteoric since then as he made his Dragons debut in 2017 before graduating to the Wales squad last year.

He’s now a key member of Warren Gatland’s team as they go for glory in Japan, scoring a crucial try and winning the man-of-the-match award against France in Sunday’s quarter-final to help set-up the last-four clash with South Africa.

South Wales Argus:

Poole and other former teammates Aaron Collins, Tom Owen-Evans and Kieran Parselle will be cheering on Wainwright at the weekend and dreaming of following in his footsteps.

That looks like a long shot for all of them, but it is at least a possibility for Poole after he won his first call-up to Ryan Giggs’ senior Wales squad for the recent Euro 2020 qualifiers against Slovakia and Croatia.

The 21-year-old, who returned on loan last season to help the Exiles to the League Two play-off final, didn’t make it into the matchday squads but it’s encouraging that he’s on Giggs’ radar.

“It was amazing for him to get the call-up,” said County manager Michael Flynn, who coached Poole in the academy and in the first team at Rodney Parade.

“Everybody knows how fond I am of Regan. He’s been brilliant with me and for a young kid he’s got a mature head on his shoulders.

“I want to see him make all the success he can because he’s a great lad and he’s got a lovely family as well.”

Poole politely declined to stop and chat with me in the mixed zone at the Cardiff City Stadium after the 1-1 draw with Croatia, perhaps uneasy that he hadn’t featured in the game and keen to let his football do the talking.

He’s hoping he can impress Giggs with his performances for MK Dons in League One and finally make his senior debut for his country after winning 19 under-21 caps.

The experience of travelling to eastern Europe with the squad will stand him in good stead, but he wants his performances to warrant his first cap for his country.

“It was a good experience,” he told the MK Citizen. “I've gone up and trained with them before so I knew what to expect.

“It was good to travel to Slovakia and be a part of it. It was really enjoyable, and we picked up two positive results, which was good as well.

“My aim next time is to be a part of the matchday squad, be on the bench and maybe get my first appearance.

“It's all building up to that and hopefully in the future that can happen.”

Hopefully that will be the case for likeable young defender.

His future may not include a World Cup semi-final like his friend Wainwright, but Poole has earned the right to be in Giggs’ thinking.

With Football League experience at a young age with County and three years in the Manchester United set-up he’s had an excellent grounding in the game.

Last season he played a major part in County’s journey to Wembley and he’s already impressing in the third tier under the watchful eye of Paul Tisdale.

It didn’t work out for Poole at United but he should still have another 10 to 15 years as a professional footballer ahead of him and he can still fulfil his boyhood dream – just as Wainwright has, in a roundabout sort of way.

One word of advice though Regan, don't copy your mate's dodgy tash!