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FEATURE Dan Biggar prepares to relinquish Welsh jersey on a high

Dan Biggar prepares to relinquish Welsh jersey on a high
8 months ago

What is it that turns a mild-mannered guy such as Dan Biggar into a raging, opinion-dividing force the moment he pulls on a rugby jersey?

Maybe one day they’ll run a university course on the question.

George North might even be invited along to offer a view.

Last time out, in the World Cup Pool C clash with Fiji, the 6ft 4in, 17st 2lb Wales centre found himself on the wrong end of a Biggar tongue-lashing, not once but twice, with the second of those coming on the stroke of half-time after North ran into trouble deep in his own half.  There were 41,274 spectators inside Stade de Bordeaux and most of them were screaming at that very point, but five words from the Wales No. 10 still came through loud and clear over the TV audio: “Get the f*****g ball off.”

At least North was left in no doubt about what to do next time.

Plenty were unimpressed, including several former players, among them a recent Wales team-mate in Josh Navidi, who said of such a reaction: “I personally don’t like it. You know you’ve made a mistake or you’ve knocked a ball on; you don’t need someone on your back screaming at you for no reason.”

One social media user called Biggar the “ultimate hothead”.

But there was much support for him, too, and the roars of appreciation from Wales supporters inside the ground when he left the pitch with 13 minutes to play in Bordeaux, after a display brimful of emotion, passion and leadership,  suggested those doing the cheering could live with his way of doing things, thanks very much. He may be the ultimate hothead, some Welsh followers might have reasoned, but he’s our ultimate hothead and no-one quite drives a team like him.

Dan Biggar
Dan Biggar has never been shy in showing his emotions on the pitch (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Certainly, when screaming at a prone North after the centre found himself pinged at a breakdown in Wales’ half on 10 minutes against the Fijians, Manchester United fan Biggar appeared more Roy Keane than Keane himself circa 1999.

Anyway, he didn’t appear bothered one jot by the commotion his very public upbraiding of a team-mate had caused. “I know some people have had a pop at me about the way I spoke but I could not care less,” he said in his column for MailOnline. “I really do not care what people think of me. If it happened tomorrow I would do it again. That is who I am.”

No-one can accuse him of inconsistency.

Early in his career, this writer interviewed him after he’d been jeered continually during a Dragons v Ospreys game at Rodney Parade. The assumption was people had seen this supposedly upstart kid becoming animated in previous games on TV and so happily waded into him.

A chat was arranged and the then 19-year-old turned up on a crisp winter’s day to tell his story outside at his region’s training base. He accepted he had a developing image problem but insisted he wouldn’t be changing his need to lead and occasionally call out team-mates who had erred.

“It’s the way I play, and the way I am,” he said at the time.

“If I try to change that part of my game, I won’t be the same player.”

You left the interview feeling the kid wasn’t all that bad, after all. Indeed, on the strength of our conversation, he didn’t seem even remotely bad. He actually seemed an engaging and genuinely endearing character.

That said, over the years, several team-mates could have been forgiven for wishing he’d taken a Trappist vow of silence.

Goughie, shut that f****r up before I do

Adam Jones, after being riled by Biggar

Adam Jones was one.

One of life’s nice guys, he had probably been unfamiliar with the phenomenon of descending red mist until Biggar offered him some free advice in the celebrated  prop’s specialist area during a European match against seriously heavyweight opponents who’d been applying scrum pressure.

“It was quite funny,” the pair’s then Ospreys team-mate Ian Gough later recalled.

“He was telling Adam: ‘Can’t you try to get the ball to the back of the scrum quicker so that it comes to me earlier?’

“Bomb came across to me and said: ‘Goughie, shut that f****r up before I do.’

“It was all forgotten about later, but it made me chuckle.”

Dan Biggar
Team-mates for so long, Dan Biggar didn’t care who he upset on the field, which included Adam Jones (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Jones could perhaps join a queue for those who’ve found themselves riled by the former Gowerton School pupil.

But perhaps the boy can’t help himself.

Turn back the clock all the way to his days with Swansea RFC, fully 15 years ago. The Whites were then coached by former Wales flanker Richard Webster, a man who it was very definitely not advisable to rile.

But rile him the young Biggar did.

What are Webster’s memories of the then teenager? “He was a very talented rugby player,” says Webster.

“But he was still a kid and it showed in some of the things he did.

“I remember we hadn’t beaten Newport over there for around 10 years and we were ahead well in the second half. The problem was he started being a bit petulant to the referee and everyone around him. From where I was sitting he was in danger of losing us the game.

“So I went to go onto the field. I was going to grab him by the throat and drag him off.

“I tried to change him back then, but I couldn’t. All the traits he has now, he had all those years ago.’

Richard Webster

“One of the senior players said: ‘Where are you going?’

“I said: ‘I’m going to get him now.’

“He told me not to do that and said he’d have a word with him. So this player, a big lump of a winger and a tough boy, went over to him and said: ‘Look Dan, let’s calm it down a bit.’

“The reply came back: ‘You can f**k off, as well.’”

Webster continues: “When he was shouting at George North against Fiji, I thought it was completely wrong, but he was like that as an 18-year-old.

“I tried to change him back then, but I couldn’t.

“All the traits he has now, he had all those years ago.

“Did I think they were great then? Not all of them.

Richard Webster
A fellow Swansea boy, former Wales and Lions backrow Richard Webster says Biggar hasn’t changed since he first came across him as an 18-year-old (Dave Rogers/Allsport

“My thinking was he was a youngster and he hadn’t done enough to justify acting like he did.

“I don’t take any credit for what he’s done since, because I don’t even know if he listened to anything I said.

“What he’s done in rugby is down to Dan Biggar.

“He was always going to do it, no matter who was coaching him.

He’s had to contend with a lot of stinging critiques over the years, so it says much for his strength of character that he is still on the frontline, still doing it his way, the social media bullets still bouncing off him.

“Fair play to him, the man’s a warrior, a fighter.

“Nobody could have helped him. Nobody would have needed to help him, because Dan Biggar’s his own man and Dan Biggar does what Dan Biggar does.

“He has traits other people don’t have.

“That said, the most talented player I coached – well, in terms of attacking ability – was Matthew Morgan. I’ve never seen anyone with as much talent as that boy, but he didn’t come through properly at Test level. OK, his defence wasn’t brilliant, but when he was with Swansea I didn’t really want him to be doing a load of defending. I didn’t even want him to kick much, because he could run further than he could kick. Maybe they thought he wasn’t the right size. But I haven’t seen anything like him.”

But, as Webster says, Biggar was always going to come through. At an Ospreys press call in those days when he was still wearing metaphorical L-plates, someone asked him if his aim was to eventually play for Wales. Biggar was almost dumbstruck by the question. Not for him platitudes about taking one step at a time. Instead, there was an answer along the lines of ‘of course it is’.

He’s had to contend with a lot of stinging critiques over the years, so it says much for his strength of character that he is still on the frontline, still doing it his way, the social media bullets still bouncing off him.

But a lot who criticise don’t know the real Dan Biggar.

Sam Davies
Former Welsh fly-half Sam Davies says Biggar’s on-field reputation is midleading (Photo credit ALBERTO PIZZOLI/ Getty Images)

“People have misconceptions about Dan,” says his old team-mate Sam Davies, who once vied with Biggar for the No. 10 shirt at the Ospreys.

“When he’s on the field, his competitive nature takes over.

“A lot of players have that will to win, but he wears his heart on his sleeve more than others. He always has done and probably always will. He isn’t going to change because that’s the way he plays.

“He’s the ultimate competitor in terms of wanting to win.

“I got on well with him and learned a lot from him. We used to spend a lot of time together because we were the team’s kickers. He was always open for me to ask him anything if I needed advice. That’s invaluable for a youngster.

“People form opinions without knowing him. He’s an exceptionally nice guy off the pitch.”

His long-time agent Tim Lopez, director of CSM Sport and Entertainment, tells a similar tale about the Biggar he knows away from the playing field.  “I consider him a friend more than a client in many ways,” says Lopez.

Occasionally, wearing the No. 10 shirt for Wales, he was an easy target, but Dan was never going to fade into the background

Tim Lopez, Biggar’s agent

“It’s been a privilege to see him grow into the man he is today.

“That may sound a bit full on, but it’s a matter of huge pride and something I take a lot of enjoyment out of, having seen the ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s been tough to take, knowing who Dan Biggar was when there were plenty of people who didn’t know him yet had a strong opinion about him.

“Occasionally, wearing the No. 10 shirt for Wales, he was an easy target, but Dan was never going to fade into the background. Perhaps the combative way he plays has prompted some people to have their say about him, but he’s a hugely robust character who’s seen it all and very much come out on top.”

Some of the caustic comments have come from people who don’t like the way Biggar plays as a fly-half, while others have simply railed against his oft-animated on-pitch demeanour.

But steely resolve has seen him plough on.

“One smart move he made early doors was coming off social media, a move that possibly was a recognition that at that time in his life he didn’t possess the rhino hide that he wanted,” says Lopez.

Dan Biggar
A test centurion and heavily decorated, Welsh fans will miss Biggar when he departs the international stage (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“He made the call himself. Perhaps he felt it was better to take himself out of that dynamic altogether and not worry about the views of those he didn’t really know.

“He’s a very level person who will never regard himself as the world’s best player nor the world’s worst.

“What really matters to Dan is whether he hits his own standards and lives up to his own beliefs, while he also pays a lot of attention to what his friends and family, coaches and team-mates think. Beyond that, I don’t think he really cares.

“Whether you call that a thick skin or whether you call it really smart, by-passing what thousands on social media think of you, it doesn’t matter to him. He only cares what his wife Alex thinks and his sons and he cared deeply what his late mum thought. He also cares about the really good group of friends and family that support him, irrespective of form or whether he’s spoken up on the pitch. Those close to him know the real Dan Biggar, and he’s hugely popular with anyone that knows him.”

Lopez recalls his first meeting with Biggar: “He was only 17 or 18 and he did look a bit nervous, which was understandable as I was with an older colleague and Dan would not have experienced a get-together like that before.

He’s his own man and perfectly capable of handling himself and he has made  many good decisions. Of course we all make bad ones as well, but he’s very much been the master of his own destiny.

Tim Lopez

“We met him in Swansea and he turned up by himself and that’s quite rare for any player, let alone one so young. Looking back, that fits the Dan I now know.

“He’s his own man and perfectly capable of handling himself and he has made  many good decisions. Of course we all make bad ones as well, but he’s very much been the master of his own destiny. He hasn’t let other people make decisions for him.

“He never looks back, he just gets on with it. Whatever decision he takes, he follows it through wholeheartedly. He takes the right amount of advice, but to be honest with you, it’s been easy looking after him. He doesn’t over-complicate things, but then he doesn’t over-complicate things in the way he lives his life.”

Biggar’s longevity and effectiveness in so many different areas have largely silenced those who crave a different flavour in the Wales No. 10 shirt. Not that long ago, while watching the Swansea-born player soaring high into the sky to claim steepling kicks and throwing himself into tackles, an experienced rugby observer asked the question in the Principality Stadium media room: “Have Wales ever had another fly-half like Dan Biggar?”

No-one could come up with anyone comparable in terms of what the man himself offers.

Dan Biggar
Dan Biggar could just have two games left in a Welsh shirt if Wales lose to Australia (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

That doesn’t put him at the top of the pile of great Welsh 10s.

But he will be missed when he’s gone.

An indicator of that came after he’d been replaced on 67 minutes with Wales 32-14 up and looking comfortable against Fiji. Over the next 13 minutes, minus their No. 10’s occasionally volcanic leadership qualities, Warren Gatland’s team came close to unravelling and could have lost had Semi Radradra held onto a pass with the line beckoning and the clock deep into the red.

But sooner rather than later it will be all over on the big stage for Biggar.

Having announced he will be finishing as a Test player after the World Cup, he probably has only three or four games left in a Wales jersey – perhaps fewer.

It’s too late now for him to sell himself to the world as the embodiment of Zen calm and sensitivity on a rugby pitch.

When he turns up with a glint in his eye and his war paint on, his country’s  chances are always improved. Wales have been fortunate to have him.

But that won’t bother him one jot.

Perhaps the rest of us should just savour his effort over the coming games.

Watch him somehow retain the composure to manage play while also manning the defensive barricades, contesting countless high kicks and also galvanising those around him. He can sometimes resemble a boxer attempting a Sudoku puzzle in between rounds, attempting to think clearly despite taking a physical battering.

But here’s the certainty.

When he turns up with a glint in his eye and his war paint on, his country’s  chances are always improved.

Wales have been fortunate to have him.

Comments

1 Comment
E
Euan 266 days ago

Beat Australia, and the Pope will forgive all your sins.

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