Dan Biggar is a man who knows something about being pigeon-holed: having made his debut for Wales twelve years ago, he has racked up 82 appearances in red and earned a reputation as one of the most defensively solid but unthrilling fly-halves in the game.
But a player who makes his international debut at 19 and continues for so long rarely stays the same throughout his career and Biggar has evolved over the years.
His move away from what he referred to as “the goldfish bowl” in Wales to Northampton Saints, just in time to work with Kiwi coach Chris Boyd, has demonstrated that there are far more strings to his bow than people have usually credited him with (although it is worth noting that he usually played with a little more flair for Ospreys than Wales).
The rock solid No10
There is probably one thing that comes to mind when you think about Biggar’s playing style and that’s his kicking. He has been one of the best goal-kickers in the world for a few years now, stepping up in 2015 in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny and not dropping below 85% for Wales since. This one, in particular, lives long in the memory.
Having already kicked 20 points from a possible 20 in the crucial group game, and with the scores tied with 74 minutes on the clock, Biggar stepped up just inside halfway and nailed the kick that saw Wales qualify from that infamous RWC 2015 “pool of death” despite a torrent of injuries. His nervelessness became the face of Wales’ campaign.
But it’s not just goal-kicking where Biggar excels, however iconic that kick has become. His up and unders are also highly respected as a lethal threat, especially as he so frequently chases — and takes — them himself. For those who watched Wales regularly under Warren Gatland, they became a common sight.
This one here, another example from the 2015 RWC, for Wales against South Africa, is a classic example.
He gets there before anyone else and takes the ball safely, allowing him to pass to the chasing Gareth Davies, who scores. In a matter of seconds, Wales have gone from just inside the halfway line to over the try line.
For years, you knew what you were getting with Dan Biggar in a Wales jersey. He would put in a huge defensive shift and keep your opponents under pressure around the field with his kicking game while being a constant threat of punishment to any disciplinary errors in the wrong half.
Recently, however, we’ve seen a new side to him.
The flash No10
As noted above, Biggar tended to show a little more flair for Ospreys than for Wales. Here, in a crucial derby game against Cardiff Blues in 2015, he dummies then shows off his running threat, exchanging passes with his scrum half and continuing before finally being stopped.
It was his move to Saints and meeting with Boyd, however, that seems to have truly unleashed his inner baller. This pass against Benetton Treviso in the Heineken Cup had some fans asking, “that Dan Biggar?” and others drooling for days.
The execution is perfect and shows just how confident he is at Northampton, away from the constant scrutiny that wearing the No10 jersey in Wales leads to. He has brought that confidence into his Wales form as well, throwing an even more outrageous pass against Italy to set up Josh Adams.
The ball-playing pivot
The license that Wales players are being given to play under new coach Wayne Pivac seems to suit this new version of Biggar, as he has been part of quite a few eye-catching moves this Six Nations — and not in the way he was under Gatland.
Here, he works a lovely one-two with captain and former Ospreys teammate Alun-Wyn Jones. He gets the ball to Jones and waits on his shoulder to take the return offload. Tomos Williams, who originally passed the ball to Biggar, has held his run in order to be on Biggar’s shoulder as he breaks through, and from there the try is almost guaranteed.
These one-two moves appear to be a feature of Pivac’s approach with Wales because a very similar move follows not long after. Biggar passes inside to Justin Tipuric, takes the return pass, and offloads to the chasing Dillon Lewis. This time the move doesn’t come off but we can presumably expect to see more of this move in the future, with Biggar featuring again.
Sometimes, of course, being the pivot in a team with this type of high-risk attack just boils down to taking the opportunity that quick ball provides and Biggar is also capable of doing exactly that and, in this case, providing the ball himself.
He sees the ball has come loose and dives to grab it, passing to Nick Tompkins as he does so, and allowing him to take full advantage of the way Italy’s defence is caught off guard.
A full package fly half?
There was one move in Wales’ game against France where Biggar combined both the old and the new, starting the sequence by claiming Romain Ntamack’s long kick and launching his own up and under, chasing it, catching it, and releasing Hadleigh Parkes with a perfect pass.
Parkes takes contact, Ross Moriarty steps up at scrum half, and Biggar takes the ball before pivoting and passing down to Wyn Jones. It’s another move that doesn’t quite come off but a clear signal of intent from Biggar, Pivac, and Wales.
That said, like Wales, Biggar seems to have struggled to maintain the strengths of his former international game while executing what Pivac wants for the future. Time and again against both Ireland and France, he made basic mistakes of a type he rarely did before: kicking poorly, dropping the ball, missing touch, being dummied in defence.
His frustration at the combination of uncharacteristic errors and difficulties implementing the game plan is probably why his attitude towards referee Matthew Carley was so noticeably poor during the France game. Like many ultra-competitive fly halves, Biggar has often struggled in the past to contain his annoyance at refereeing decisions that he believes have gone against him but the game against France was his worst in some time, leading to a video by filmmaker and animator Graham Love parodying his behaviour to go viral.
— Graham Love (@glove931) February 22, 2020
Of course, ultra-competitive fly-halves like Biggar also tend to bounce back from disappointments, as the man himself seemed to be doing for Saints in the Six Nations break weekend before a nasty-looking knee injury forced him off the pitch after only 20 minutes.
Despite the trouble Biggar has had pulling the different sides of his game together in Wales’ new approach, an injury would be a significant blow to Pivac with two games left of the tournament and both Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell already unavailable with injuries.
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