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FEATURE Sam Davies: 'All I can say is that Grenoble have given me reassurances.'

Sam Davies: 'All I can say is that Grenoble have given me reassurances.'
1 year ago

Regrets? Like Sinatra, Sam Davies doesn’t really want to go there.

In a matter of weeks, it will be exactly 10 years since the Welsh fly-half was crowned the best young rugby player on the planet, winning World Rugby’s garland as junior player of the year for 2013.

Future world rugby luminaries Ardie Savea, Cheslin Kolbe, Josh van der Flier, Pablo Matera, Facundo Isa, Anthony Watson, Handre Pollard, Peceli Yato, Teddy Thomas and Cyril Baille all featured in the Junior World Championship (JWC) of a decade ago, with Savea to the fore every time he took the field for New Zealand – of course he was.

But no-one played better than Davies, who bossed games with his extraordinarily accurate kicking out of hand. Wherever he wanted the ball to go, it went. To the corners from penalty kicks out of hand? Tick. Against the grain to completely wrong-foot defences? Tick. Between the posts via calmly executed drop shots? Tick. If his exploits had been chronicled in a comic, words like ‘wow’ and ‘outstanding’ would have appeared in speech bubbles over the heads of spectators who watched him play in France.

Wales reached the final of that JWC event and here was a player who was going to win 50-plus caps for them at senior level, surely?

But he has just eight in his locker at home, all of them collected during the 2016-17 season.

An explanation, please?

“Looking back, I was probably like a rabbit in the headlights when I made the senior Welsh squad,” says Davies.

“I’d just turned 23.

“There were mistakes I made, like going out at weekends, or maybe relaxing a bit after a game. Perhaps that left some people with a bad impression.

“I partly blame myself for it.

“I don’t necessarily feel it was to do with my ability on the pitch, because the season when I won my first Wales cap I played some decent rugby, winning six of the eight games I played for Wales.

Sam Davies
Sam Davies after his match-winning drop goal against Japan in 2016 (Photo credit GEOFF CADDICK/ Getty Images)

“I didn’t get back in the squad after the 2017 summer tour. But I think I played quite well. Probably, on that trip I should have been a bit more cautious about my actions. Maybe if I could rewind the clock my decisions generally would have been a lot better.

“When I matured I did get a little look-in under Wayne Pivac, but the timing wasn’t right, because Covid hit. When we came back, it was as if I was never going to get back into the squad again.

“But it’s all in the past and you can’t change it, so there’s no point dwelling on it.

“You just have to look forward and try to make the best of things.”

Perhaps the wise man was right: life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

This writer first met Davies in the run-up to the Junior World Championship spoken of above. Many young players are uncertain and wary in media interviews, but the son of former Wales captain and centre Nigel Davies was confident and articulate, unafraid to express himself. He knew there was a process involved and he evidently trusted the two or three journalists who spoke with him to keep their side of the bargain: that is, not to spin his words. You left the 15-minute chat feeling impressed.

Fast-forward to today and the person on the other end of the phone still has much to be excited about.

All I can say is that Grenoble have given me reassurances. Apparently, the problems are from before and new arrangements are in place. They don’t expect to be playing in a lower division.

He is getting married this summer and about to embark on a new chapter in his rugby career, with a move to Grenoble after four years with the Dragons. He is also launching a business venture that he sees as exciting.

But what of the fly that’s just taken up residence in the ointment? Just days after losing a playoff game for the right to figure in the Top 14 next term, Grenoble learned they could be relegated to the French game’s third tier if an appeal against demotion from Pro D2 amid financial issues is rejected. Presumably, none of that was part of the plan for their new Welsh recruit?

“All I can say is that Grenoble have given me reassurances,” says Davies, who has signed a two-year deal with the Alpine club. “Apparently, the problems are from before and new arrangements are in place. They don’t expect to be playing in a lower division.

Sam Davies
Davies scored over a 1000 points for the Ospreys before moving to the Dragons in 2019 (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“I can only take their word for it.

“They seem to think they’ll  be OK.”

But what would happen if the worst did come to the worst and Grenoble did take the drop into the Nationale? Where would such a move leave Davies? “To be honest, I’m not entirely sure,” he says.

“I guess it wouldn’t void my contract because I’ve signed a deal and there was nothing in it to say that if the club dropped into a lower division the contract would become invalid.

“But, hopefully, it won’t come to that. Going over there at the weekend and seeing the support they had for their playoff match with Perpignan – they can’t be in the third division. If the worst-case scenario did unfold, I’m sure they’d bounce straight back up.”

Davies could be forgiven for believing anywhere might be an upgrade on the scene in Wales.

 Where do you even start when assessing the lot of the regions? Job losses, wage cuts, reduced budgets, squad numbers being slashed, talented players moving on – one bad-news train after another pulling into Misery Central, with outbound journeys seemingly heading only for Adversityville.

Maybe odds will be defied; maybe Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets will confound expectations.  But it’s probably wise not to gamble all the kids’ inheritance on such a scenario playing out.

It’s just not great to look at the United Rugby Championship table and see the Welsh teams down in the bottom half. The way things are, the introduction of the South African teams has made it almost impossible for us.

None of which is Davies’ problem any more.

But he still feels for Welsh rugby and believes hard decisions need to be taken for the  professional sides on the western flank of the River Severn to be competitive again.

“It’s just not great to look at the United Rugby Championship table and see the Welsh teams down in the bottom half,” he says.

“I want to see them doing well. If that means dropping down to three regions to become more competitive, perhaps with a development side, as well, along the lines of the situation in Ireland, then I’d like to see it that way. Or perhaps the Scottish model, with just two pro teams, is the way forward. It seems to be working for them.

“Whatever, I want Ospreys, Scarlets, Cardiff, Dragons – whichever sides they picked – to be challenging for the playoffs.

“The way things are, the introduction of the South African teams has made it almost impossible for us.

Sam Davies
Davies is leaving the uncertainty of Wales after four largely happy years with the Dragons (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

“They are hours apart. The game there has a bigger pool of players and a bigger population to support their teams. All the pro sides in Wales are within an hour of each other. We don’t have the same number of players to pick from, while the support base isn’t as big as it is in other countries.

“I just want the best for Welsh rugby. I’m sure others feel the same way, but no-one seems to want the hard discussions that go with it.

“I know it’s tough for supporters, with their attachments to different teams, but there’s been a massive change in the past, when the regional game started up. It just seems as though something has to give.

“If it doesn’t happen within the next two or three years, I think it’s inevitable that at some point something will change. It just seems as if everyone’s putting it off.”

I look around and see players like Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland and Jimmy Gopperth who have been playing superb rugby through their 30s.

Davies and his American fiancée, Texan Elianna Chavez, are launching their own handcrafted gin, Toca Vida. “She’s very business minded and I’ve always wanted to start a spirits company,” says Davies. “She did her masters dissertation on starting a gin brand and passed with flying  colours – they even asked her why she hadn’t started her company already.  So we are going for it.”

But his primary focus will be on rugby as he heads for France, with his outlook upbeat as he contemplates the future.

 “I look around and see players like Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland and Jimmy Gopperth who have been playing superb rugby through their 30s,” he says.

“When you get to that age, you have something invaluable and that’s experience. At 10, it’s not so much about the physical attributes, albeit you need to make your tackles and take contact  because teams target you.  But by then you should also know what works on the pitch and what doesn’t, what needs to be done before, during and after games. You can use what you’ve learned over the years to help your side.

“I’m only 29.

“I have 150 games for Ospreys, 70 for the Dragons and eight for Wales behind me.

“Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to express myself with Grenoble.

Sam Davies
Davies was the 2013 IRB Player of the Tournament after a stunning tournament for Wales (Photo by Roger Sedres//Getty Images)

“Don’t get me wrong: there are a few nerves, but I think that’s good, as it was when I moved from Ospreys to Dragons in 2019. Perspectives change, people’s opinions become fresh and, as a player, you become hungrier.

“There’s obviously the language barrier to come to terms with, but at the end of the day, rugby is rugby. For me, it’s about just going to Grenoble and trying to add value to the team and making a difference.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but I’m hoping my best is still to come.”

Bundee came up to me and said: ‘If you throw another dummy, I’ll take your effing head off.’

One more question before our chat wraps up. What did happen when Davies came across Bundee Aki in a Connacht v Ospreys clash in Galway in 2016? “It’s hard to forget,” he laughs.

“I broke through their defence, offloaded to our Canadian wing Jeff Hassler and we scored a great try. Bundee then came up to me and said: ‘If you throw another dummy, I’ll take your effing head off.’

“About 20 minutes later, I threw another dummy and went over in the corner, only to be pinged for a double movement.

“As I went past Bundee, I couldn’t resist saying to him: ‘I thought you were going to take my head off if I threw another dummy.’

“In fairness to him, he laughed.”

Davies is chuckling as well as we close the interview. An amiable guy is the former Wales fly-half. And he still has a lot of good rugby in him. Grenoble can be pleased with their piece of business. He won’t let them down.

 

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