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'Not getting selected obviously hurt him... He was pretty despondent'

By Simon Thomas
Gareth Davies of Wales applauds the fans at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Fiji at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux on September 10, 2023 in Bordeaux, France. (Photo by Adam Pretty - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

From international outcast to a pivotal figure in Wales’ World Cup crusade, it has been some re-birth for Gareth Davies.

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Dropped from the squad during the latter part of Wayne Pivac’s reign, he found his omission difficult to take after being a fixture in the set-up for some eight years. By his own admission, the Scarlets scrum-half came close to giving up on his Test career.

The way he defended, which was such a big part of his game, just wasn’t to the liking of the Welsh management. He tried to change his ways, but that proved to be the worst mistake he could have made. It wasn’t his game, he didn’t enjoy it and he lost all confidence, going through a tough 18 months or so.

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Eddie Jones post-match presser after final match

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Eddie Jones post-match presser after final match

But then two men were to play a key role in reviving his fortunes.

His coach at the Scarlets, Dwayne Peel, helped restore his confidence, encouraging him to focus on just enjoying his game again.

Then there was the return of Warren Gatland as Wales coach. Immediately, Davies had renewed hope. He worked his socks off to get into the best shape of his life and recapture his form of old, re-emerging as a stand-out performer for his region during the second half of last season and earning a recall for his third World Cup.

Out in France, he has proved a key presence, given fresh licence to fly out of the line in defence with his trademark spot blitzes and interceptions. His box kicking and touchline tracers have been vital in providing tactical control and territorial foothold, while his strike running and support play is as effective as ever, as demonstrated by the line he picked off Jac Morgan for his try in the rout of Australia.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
1
Wins
2
Average Points scored
20
21
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
40%

That set a new World Cup record for a scrum-half of eight tries. The years have been rolled back and, at 33, the 72-cap Davies is as important to Wales as he’s ever been going into Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

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What then of the man whose words of advice helped spark the revival? As his club coach and a former Test scrum-half himself, Dwayne Peel is ideally placed to provide an insight into what makes Davies tick.

“I didn’t really know Gareth until I came here two years ago,” says the Scarlets boss.

“What I soon learned is that he’s the ultimate competitor. That’s probably his biggest trait. He wants to fight for everything. You see him in training every day, he wants to be the best. Even if it’s little kick games or playing football, he is so competitive. That’s brilliant and I love to see it.”

However, Peel also became aware that Davies needed support and a lift following his axing by Wales in the latter part of 2022.
“Not getting selected obviously hurt him,” said the former Wales and Lions scrum-half.

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Gareth Davies
Gareth Davies of Wales is tacked by Albert Tuisue  (Photo by Hans van der Valk/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

“He was pretty despondent for a while.

“I have been there myself when you get left out of international squads.

“It’s never nice, especially when you’ve been one of the mainstays in there. You can dwell on it and get a bit bitter and think about the wrong things.

“You can get bogged down sometimes where you worry about selection, but ultimately selection is out of your control.

“We said it was important he didn’t dwell on it too much and just enjoyed his rugby – then whatever comes from it comes
“That’s what we spoke about, honestly, and for him to relax a bit and not worry too much about it.

“With the conversations we had, I think there was a realization for him that he needed to enjoy the last few years of his career.

“He was at ease with a few things then and played some of his best rugby for us last season. He was outstanding.

Wayne Barnes World Cup
Gareth Davies makes a break – PA

“Off the back of that, he’s had the opportunity again with Wales and he’s taken it. I am really pleased for him.”

Someone else who knows Davies well is his long-time team-mate for club and country, Jonathan Davies, who saw at first hand how he was affected by being dropped by Wales.

“I think he took it quite hard initially,” said the Scarlets centre.

“But Gareth is probably one of the most competitive people I have ever met, on and off the field. He will fight you over a decision in a card game!

“Then, on the field, he will compete until he can’t go no more. You have seen how hard he has worked in games in this World Cup.

“I think it’s testament to his character that he has been one of the key players for this Welsh team.

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“For me, he hasn’t played better in his career. He has been outstanding and I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s got a great work ethic.

“He is showing everyone by the photos of his physique that he’s worked extremely hard!

“Sometimes when you don’t get picked and you want to be a part of it – if that fragile thing is taken away from you – you work twice as hard to get back into it.”

Two-times Lions Test star Davies added: “Gareth is performing at such a consistently high level right now. He does so much for the team in defence and attack.

“He has become a huge player for Wales and it’s great to see. He is in a real purple patch and he deserves it because it’s down to a lot of hard work.”

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