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How a 2011 word on the side changed Jonathan Davies' career

By Simon Thomas
Jonathan Davies of the Scarlets during the United Rugby Championship match between the Scarlets and Leinster at Parc y Scarlets on October 28, 2022 in Llanelli, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

If Jonathan Davies has one message as he reflects on his 17-year career, it’s to savour every minute of your rugby life.
It was way back in August 2006 – at the tender age of 18 – that he made his debut for the Scarlets against Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.

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He was to go on to become one of the finest centres of his generation, winning 96 caps for Wales and starting six Tests for the British & Irish Lions, being named player of the series on the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

Now 35, he is firmly in the veteran category and in landmark territory, with this weekend’s game against the Dragons being his 200th for the Scarlets.

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But he has no intention of hanging up his boots anytime soon, which brings us back to that whole point about squeezing every drop of enjoyment you can out of your rugby career.

“It goes so quick,” he says, sitting in the stand looking out on Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

“I always try and tell the young boys here you have to appreciate every moment of it. Especially with the ways things are currently, you just don’t know how long you do have as a professional.

“I have been extremely fortunate to be able to have the career that I’ve had and I’m extremely grateful.

“But, with that, I like to think I have put the miles in and understood early, while watching senior players like Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel, how they looked after their bodies to have long careers.

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“Having a serious knee injury at a young age, at just 18, made me realise how fragile it all was and then how lucky I was to be able to come back and carry on playing.

“When you get on the field, you don’t give it up because you know it can be taken away from you so quickly. That stuck with me from a very young age. When you’ve had a bad injury, you do appreciate it far, far more.

“There are little changes you would change across your career, but overall I don’t have too many regrets – well, none that I can say anyway!

“It’s always been fun driving to work. It’s the people that make this experience worth it. I’ve always said, to call it a job is a bit of a joke.”

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The job began with that pre-season game against Northampton in the late summer of 2006, an initiation he has pretty clear memories of.

“It was Ken Owens’ debut as well, it was Stephen Jones’ first game back from Clermont and Carlos Spencer was playing for Northampton,” he recalls.

“I remember, at the first scrum, Lou Reed sent one through up on Steve Thompson. Steve grabbed him by the neck and I think Lou was petrified at that point!

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“It was a proud moment for me back then and I do remember it quite well. I remember Simon Easterby giving me a tap on the head when I made a mistake, so it was harsh lessons at an early age.

“There were also harsh lessons off the field, being 18 or 19 and going on team socials! But it was good times.

“I was a kid who supported the Scarlets and the next thing I knew I was going out having beer with the likes of Stephen Jones.

“Vernon Cooper, who was a great team man, would take me and Rhys Priestland under his wing. I was so lucky. I look back on it and it always brings a smile to my face. There was still an old school mentality which was a lot of fun.

“I remember one year, our flight back from Cork after playing Munster was overbooked and five of us had to stay an extra night. I had no choice!”

Wales Jonathan Davies
Jonathan Davies /PA

As for how he has changed since those teenage days, Davies says: “I was a lot heavier when I first started playing. The boys put a video together the other day and I was shocked!

“Initially, it was about my size and getting over the gain-line. Then I just adapted and became comfortable at 13 defensively, through very good coaching and guidance.

“The game has changed a number of times along the way. In the early part of my career, it was all about size and physicality. Then it moved to playing at more speed. The collisions were still there, but the point of attack was changed.

“Now the size is coming back into it. It’s almost like fashion. Things go in and out of fashion in rugby all the time. You do wonder where it’s going to go next. It’s always exciting how things change.”

With Davies’ raw talent being obvious at a young age, he made his Wales debut against Canada in May 2009, just after his 21st birthday.

But then, a couple of years later, came something of a watershed moment.

“I remember in 2011, Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins called me in before we went to the World Cup camps,” he reveals.
“They sat me down and went through my game with a fine tooth comb. They said I didn’t do enough extras.

Wales 2012
Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davieshave been one of Wales’ most celebrated midfield partnerships (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“I used to think when training finished you were done as a player, whereas that’s where it starts as an individual, working on all aspects of the game.

“You are never going to be the finished article, but you should always be striving to be as good as you possibly can. You put the hours in and you see the benefit on the field. It doesn’t happen by chance.”

Davies responded to the no-nonsense debrief from the Wales coaches by taking his game up to another level on the international stage during the 2011 World Cup and the following year’s Six Nations Grand Slam as he forged a highly effective midfield partnership with Jamie Roberts.

His fine form saw him selected for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia where he started all three Tests in the series victory, famously being chosen ahead Brian O’Driscoll for the decider in Sydney with Roberts returning to fitness to renew the double act.

A two year stint in France with Clermont Auvergne followed ahead of a return to the Scarlets and another Lions tour, this time to New Zealand, which was very much a career peak.

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In 2019, he had the family high of starting alongside his younger brother – flanker James – for Wales, while there were five games as captain of his country.

So, as another season comes around and he reaches his double century, what now of the future?

“I still feel I contribute to the group and my competitive nature is always there. Until that’s gone, I would like to play on,” he says.

“A lot of players who have finished do say you are a long-time retired.

“It probably depends whether or not my younger brother wants to keep me here, given he is head of recruitment. I have told him he is doing a stellar job!

“Body willing, I do feel I can add to the environment. I am still enjoying it. That’s the main thing.”

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1 Comment
D
Dewi 249 days ago

Jonathan has always been an honest player and I would back his decision to continue playing. He will know when it’s time to retire from playing but hopefully he’ll stay in the game in some capacity. He would make a terrific mentor for up coming players.

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