Luton chief Nathan Jones believes on-loan Sheffield United defender Rhys Norrington-Davies will be like a 'kid at Christmas' after his first call-up to the Wales senior squad this week, despite the manager himself describing the news as 'not ideal.'
The 21-year-old, who had 14 U21s caps to his name, was named in Ryan Giggs’ 27-man squad for the upcoming trio of matches against England, Ireland and Bulgaria.
Jones had hoped to give Norrington-Davies what he felt was a much-needed rest after the defender has played every single minute of Town’s league and cup campaign and with Dan Potts still out, is expected to continue that feat against Wycombe this weekend.
However, that will now not be the case, as the Town boss, a proud Welshman himself, said “He’s done very well for us and obviously done well with the under-21s and with Rochdale last year, I watched him a lot and I believe he can do certain things.
“He’s come here and been excellent. He’s a great lad, I’m thoroughly delighted for him, but if I’m honest, ideally I didn’t want him to be called up because I think he needs a rest.
“He played six full games, six 90 minutes where he’s been at it with the energy and never missed a days’ training so we’ve had to try and look after him.
“It’s not ideal but it’s great for him and I’m very proud of him.
“I would imagine he’s like a kid at Christmas and when he was told yesterday he was very excited, he’s buzzing today, you can’t really tell as he’s buzzing every day though.
"He’s a very upbeat character and I'm delighted to have him here.
"He really could have done with a rest, because he’s played big, big minutes in terms of the games and I would have hoped that I could have given him a few days off to rest up.
“He’s still a young lad, he’s played six 90s, at the level he has, first time playing in the Championship, then goes to the international games, so I’m hoping he doesn't pick up any injuries.
"Deep down I'm pleased that he’s got a call-up.
"Ironically, I was a left back who got snubbed for 27 years, played nearly 600 league games, so for him to play six games and get a call up, the irony just reeks in here!"
Norrington-Davies himself, who spent last season at Rochdale, playing 34 times until the campaign was ended by Covid-19, is confident of coping with the extra workload coming his way, saying: "I’m young, I’m fit, so game time doesn’t bother me.
"I’ve been able to take the load as it comes, I have managed myself, but I’m happy to be called up.
“Physically I’m feeling great. We (Rochdale) ended the League One season last year a little early and then we had an extended period off without playing, or training.
"I came back in and it took a couple of weeks to get myself up and running, but then my first 90 was against Norwich and I haven’t looked back since.
"The legs were feeling a little bit heavy recently, but it’s nothing, we keep ticking over, we’ve had a week to prepare for this game, so I’ll be feeling fresher Saturday."
The arrival of Norrington-Davies caught a few by surprise with Town not being publicly linked with the Blades defender, who had a spell with Barrow in the National League in 2018-19, before heading to Spotland last term.
However, Jones revealed he had been tracking the defender for a long time, including when at previous club Stoke City.
He continued: “We knew he was a young lad, coming from Wales, so we knew where he was, it’s just he came really on our radar in terms of when he was at Rochdale.
"When I left my previous employment, I knew certain positions were vital for moving forward and it was one I really went looking at in terms of positions.
"He for me was the best about, so I'm very pleased to have secured him and then we had a right back lined as well, but when I worked with James Bree, he was fantastic for me and quickly went to the head of the queue.
"So we were very, very pleased to secure him as well, so I think we’ve done good business in the full back area."
On quite what attracted him to the talents of Norrington-Davies, Jones said: "We just felt he was a front-footed defender that really wanted to play with energy, with athleticism, attacking, which is what we look for in our full backs.
"We saw a lot in him, he’s still got to learn the position and that’s why we’re very thankful that Sheffield United and Chris Wilder trusted his development with us, as that’s key to it as well.
"The big thing as well is he’s fitted right in, settled well, earned the respect of the group of players here that have been together for a long time, so we’re delighted."
Norrington-Davies caught the eye pretty much a few minutes into his debut against Norwich City, haring down the left wing on the overlap, reminiscent of a certain Jack Stacey or James Justin, to deliver a dangerous cross that required clearing.
He has carried on such attacking intents throughout his six-game spell so far, grabbing two assists for Jordan Clark as well.
Jones wasn’t left surprised by the impact the full back has had, saying: “We don’t bring anyone in on a whim.
"Anyone we bring in has been on our radar for a long time, I don’t gamble on characters, I don’t gamble on athletes, I don’t gamble on ability so I know him.
"I watched him probably 10 times and ironically I needed to watch him 10 times because he at least five of them he played centre-half which I didn’t want to see him at.
"I had to keep going back but Rochdale is a nice place, the Bovril is good so I had no problem doing that.
“He’s as I thought he would be, but then put him in our environment and he’s done very, very well.
"He's a great lad, absolutely great lad. He reminds me a little bit of a quick Glen Rea in terms of intelligence, but apart from that he’s wonderful, a wonderful player.
"He does really well, really settles quickly, I knew what he was like as an athlete, as a footballer, and god willing he’s going to get better as we don’t want him to stay at that level, we want him to be even better."
The Luton chief was also quick to praise the character shown by Norrington-Davies since moving to Kenilworth Road, although hadn't expected it to be any different from a player who is highly rated by Blades manager Chris Wilder.
He added: "For me, it’s important in any human being, then in any player and especially in a young player, because our culture and environment, we don’t gamble on that.
"We don’t take any ones that infiltrate that and pollutes it, or dilutes it, we don’t really gamble on that.
"We take our recruitment very seriously and I’ve done my due diligence on Rhys.
"He's a great lad, he’s a bit soppy at times, but we love that as he trains every day, his attitude is superb, enthusiasm, his manner, everything about him, and that's the starting point.
"Then as an athlete, then as a footballer and then his capacity for learning.
"So if all those line up, it’s a fantastic player and I’m a great admirer of Chris, I think we’ve got a similar look at certain things and he’s had to earn his trade and he’s done that.
“His starting part is he doesn't get any passengers and doesn't get in any that’s going to cause him any problems as there’s no point, you might as well just move those on."