The Wales centre hopes his fruitful season will ensure him a World Cup place. Sarah Mockford reports
The heritage of one Scarlet has proved quite the topic of conversation in the past couple of months, the form of England-born No 8 Ben Morgan catching the eyes of national selectors on both sides of the Severn Bridge. He qualifies to play for Wales in January so the big question is whether England will cap him first. However, Martin Johnson might wish he’d known that another Scarlet was born in England, particularly as this one could have helped solve his side’s chronic midfield problems. As it is, Jonathan Davies is well and truly committed to the Wales cause despite being born in Solihull.
“Not many people know that,” says Davies of his birthplace. “I don’t have the accent – I don’t think it would go down well in West Wales! My parents had moved out of Wales but then came back when I was six months old. It’s never been an issue for me. I see myself as Welsh.”
His family settled in Bancyfelin in Carmarthenshire and he was introduced to rugby at primary school. While he started out as a fly-half he was later moved to centre, his coach deeming him “too big” to be a ten – and it’s a switch that has paid off for Davies. “I don’t think I’d have got as far as I have playing outside-half,” he admits. “I did like it but I find centre a lot more enjoyable and there’s less pressure.”
Davies has been able to master the midfield craft by playing next to Regan King in recent seasons at the Scarlets, but with the ex-All Black centre leaving for France he knows he now has to take on more of a leadership role at the region. Davies may be only 23 but in a squad brimming with youth that is almost middle-aged. He made his Scarlets debut as an 18-year-old and wants to lead by example.
“With the youngsters we’ve got I see myself as that bit more senior and I demand high standards in training,” he says. “For example, they shouldn’t think, ‘It’s okay if we drop a ball. We can go back and run it again’. We should nail it every time and be confident in doing that. Then in a game, we’ll execute it every time. I’m playing with a lot of confidence now and I’m taking on more responsibility in my own game with the region. I want to keep improving.”
Davies also feels more comfortable in the Wales set-up. He was first capped in North America in the summer of 2009 and featured in all four of that year’s November Tests, but it was this spring that he started to feel at home. He was in camp for the Six Nations and started four of their five games, injury ruling him out of the Italy fixture. “I’m a bit quiet in team meetings but one-on-one I’m more confident talking to people. Being involved in the Six Nations helped my confidence and I now feel more a part of the squad.”
Ask whether he brings something different to the Wales team, though, and Davies is not so comfortable in responding. “I like to think so but I don’t know what it is. I enjoy playing an exciting brand of rugby and hopefully I’ll get opportunities this summer to show what I’m all about. I’m looking forward to it.”
He has certainly shown his appetite for scoring tries this season. He scored six in three games last September and was the only non-winger in the top five Magners League try-scorers in 2010-11, finishing the campaign with nine touchdowns to sit level in third with DTH van der Merwe. Davies jokes: “All the boys say I’m hogging the ball a lot more. I think it’s just a case of right place, right time.”
Davies does himself a disservice with that last comment because a lot of those tries required pace and footwork to beat the defence. He may look like the archetypal crash-ball centre, but he is surprisingly fast, has soft hands, is a decent kicker out of hand and can jink around players too. It’s interesting that he names Scott Gibbs as his childhood hero for he was also seen as a bish-bash-bosh merchant, yet his most famous try saw him skip around the English defence to help Wales to victory at Wembley in 1999 and end England’s Grand Slam hopes.
“Scott Gibbs was perhaps similar to the way I play. Some of the stuff he did was so dynamic and really exciting to watch; it’s something I’d like to do myself. He was a lot more skilful than some people thought and hopefully I can show that myself too.”
Davies remembers the 1999 World Cup warmly, the whole of Wales abuzz with excitement as tournament hosts. He watched the games on TV, but was still caught up in the fervour of it all. The last tournament is not such a fond memory as a Wales squad featuring several of his Scarlets team-mates crashed out in the pool stages.
Clearly he is hoping that there is no repeat of that disappointment in New Zealand this autumn as he targets a place in Warren Gatland’s World Cup 30. Centre is a competitive position for Wales, but Davies says: “I’ve come on a lot this season and I’ve been pretty pleased on the whole. Now I’m hoping to get on that plane.”
This article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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