Bradley Davies’s idols are two World Cup-winning locks – Martin Johnson and John Eales – and he’s aiming to follow in their footsteps in New Zealand. He was a particular fan of Eales given the Australian’s goalkicking ability. Davies started out as a fly-half and still tries to keep his hand, or should that be foot, in when it comes to bisecting the uprights.
He might have got the chance to step up to the tee had Rhys Priestland picked up an injury at Twickenham last month. Stephen Jones was withdrawn from the starting XV having picked up an injury in the warm-up, leaving Priestland as the only goalkicker in the team. Fortunately for Wales he played the full 80 minutes, but Davies would no doubt have been happy to be on standby.
“Johnson was a big figure and I liked the way he played the game, and I liked John Eales too,” explains Davies. “I’ve always fancied myself as a goalkicker and still practise my goalkicking, although the physios don’t like it as there’s a chance I could pull my hamstring.”
Davies has to prove himself against the best in his position if he’s to equal the feats of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain Johnson and Eales, who led Australia to glory in 1999. Wales play South Africa in their opening game of this World Cup and that means a tasty battle for Davies and Alun Wyn Jones as they face arguably the best second-row partnership in world rugby: Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
“Those two have been up there every year,” says Davies. “They work well together, are world-class players and their partnership is world class. I like playing against the best in my position. It’s a measure of where I’m at and a challenge for me. If I do well against them that’s great. It’s always nice to play the best in the world.
“South Africa are world champions but we feel as a squad that we can win that game. From there we can then build momentum for the other games.”
Davies is forming an outstanding partnership of his own with Ospreys lock Jones. They’re undoubtedly Wales’ first-choice pairing in the engine room and seem to complement each other.
“Some people say he’s the brains and I’m the brawn,” laughs Davies. “He’s a great guy and is very experienced for a young man – I’ve learnt a lot off him. He’s an intelligent guy and is the lineout organiser. I like to get my hands on the ball and play a bit of rugby.”
Both Davies and Jones are strong ball-carriers and offer Wales plenty of go-forward in attack, while neither will shirk the hard graft of the close-quarter exchanges, as was clear in last month’s win over Argentina. That’s just as well in Pool D, where the tackles will be uncompromising and the breakdown ferocious. Physicality will be to the fore – and that’s where the hard work the squad put in during their Poland training camps is sure to pay off.
“You expect every pre-season to be hard, but even more so when Wales get their hands on you for a long period of time,” says Davies. “It was tough fitness training – a lot of running – and now we get to put into practice the work we’ve done.
“It’s a very, very physical pool and as a forward I enjoy that. South Africa are renowned for it, Fiji, Samoa and Namibia as well. It’s such a tough group but if you get out of the group that stands you in good stead. There’s no point winning an easy group and then losing in the quarter-finals.”
Quite. But what Wales need to do to ensure they make the last eight of this World Cup is be consistent. They have flattered to deceive over the past couple of years, at times playing scintillating rugby and dominating games but failing to nail down the win, and on other occasions struggling to put a decent game plan together.
“We’ve been up and down,” admits Davies. “In the autumn we pushed teams close and we should have beaten South Africa, but our game management went and we lost the game. We pushed Australia and New Zealand too, and we’re getting there. The Six Nations was good up until the French game. It’s all about being consistent, which you have to do in a World Cup. We play four games in a short period of time so we have to be consistent.”
At least Davies has the benefit of knowing what it’s like to play rugby in New Zealand. He started both Tests against the All Blacks last summer and will feel quite at home over the coming few weeks in the intense environment of the Land of the Long White Cloud.
“It’s very similar to Wales. It’s a rugby-mad nation and it’ll be interesting to go out there and see the expectation. The public want them (New Zealand) to win because they haven’t won the World Cup for a long time and I’m sure the reaction they get will be big. When we played in New Zealand we got good support and a good welcome, so hopefully it’ll be the same again.”
This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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