When you’re 6ft 6in and a few bags of sugar shy of 19st, you wouldn’t expect to be still looking up to your dad, but for Seb Davies, that’s the reality with his father a vertigo-inducing 6ft 9ins and three other brothers a similar size to the Cardiff and Wales second-row.
The food bills on Kingsland Road, the quiet suburban road Davies grew up in, in Whitchurch, must have been astronomical and it will come as no surprise to hear he was ferried up the Garth Mountain to Pentyrch RFC at a tender age, where he started to develop his love for the game.
Whitchurch, we know has produced some quite astounding sportsmen with Sam Warburton, Geraint Thomas and Gareth Bale hailing from the school and more could be on the way with Davies’ second-row team-mate Christ Tshiunza was nurtured there.
Davies himself was schooled at the Welsh-speaking Glantaf, alumnus of Jamie Roberts and Rhys Patchell. If he wasn’t playing rugby he was a marauding centre-midfielder, a cricketer with soft hands and with a sizeable wingspan, an keen swimmer. It’s this multi-sport schooling that has helped Davies become one of the most highly-skilled forwards in Wales.
Davies is reticent about his gifts, however. Quietly spoken and smiling from a Zoom at Wales’ base at the Vale, he speaks as if he slipped into an accidental vocation. “After school, I did a BTEC and went to college. My rugby coach Clive Jones put me into the forwards, so I did a sports degree, focused on rugby and it’s gone from there.”
To fill in the gaps, it’s worth noting that Davies is still only 25, but has already racked up nearly 100 appearances for Cardiff, showing career-best form in the past 12 months. At Test level, after coming on as a replacement for Will Rowlands late in the Scotland game, he made his 14th appearance for Wales in what has been a slow-burn Test career to date. With Wales well-stocked in the engine room, the departures of Jake Ball and Cory Hill to Japan, and the untimely injury to captain Alun Wyn Jones has meant game-time in the last six Wales Test squads, much to his relief.
“In all honesty, the past couple of years have been a little frustrating because I have been playing well for the Blues, but I’ve not had so many games for Wales. It’s tough, because there’s a lot of good players around the second-row and the backrow is flooded with quality.”
Someone who has played alongside Davies and is watching his career development with interest is the recently retired Cardiff and Ulster No 8, Nick Williams. The popular Kiwi who has stayed in the capital city after hanging up his boots, feels nailing down his position is key to Davies as he enters his prime. “Seb is still trying to find his feet and the position that best suits his skillset. I don’t think he’s been helped by playing so many positions across the back five. There have been times when I think Seb was a bit lost because he wasn’t getting the direction he thoroughly deserved.”
A turning point came in July 2020 with the birth of his first child, Jackson. A young dad at 24, with a daughter on the way in June this year, Davies knew responsibility was coming whether he liked it or not. “I became a dad young at 24 to Jackson. I think having that responsibility has made a difference and it’s seeped through into my rugby. Like most lads of my age, I was really laid-back before he came along but now, I’m more like a dad, a little more organised and focused. At the moment I feel like rugby’s going well.”
The big work-on for me is consistency. Sometimes I can have a really good week and then the next, put in an average performance.
As a father-of-three, Williams could also see the coming of age of his young team-mate.
“It’s amazing what becoming a father does to someone. It gives you purpose. Having the little one gave him time to realise there are bigger things than rugby. I’m not saying he had fallen out of love with the game, but in those tough times, when you’re digging in and not everything’s going your way, it’s having that motivation to help you get through the hard times.”
Speak to those within the Cardiff camp and they’ve been hugely impressed with Davies’ output and increasing leadership role. Davies is self-aware enough to know what he needs to improve on. “The big work-on for me is consistency. Sometimes I can have a really good week and then the next, put in an average performance. You know, nothing special. I’ve talked a lot to the Welsh coaches and at Cardiff about keeping my levels high to do the best for the team.”
Watching from afar, Williams feels that the one thing Davies has to do, as he evolves, is stay true to himself. “I rate Seb extremely highly. He’s a quiet kid, but I wouldn’t want Seb to become someone he’s not. I hope he locks down the position he wants to play sooner than later because we’re moving into a World Cup year. I’d be extremely gutted if he didn’t make the Wales squad for France in 2023.”
Davies feels he’s going in the right direction and has been helped along by Wales’ senior second-rows, especially Cory Hill. “Cory helped me a lot, especially last year when he was with us. I speak to him quite regularly and he’s always told me to be confident in my ability. Cory passes things on in a jokey way, but you know he’s trying to help. They’re little nuggets, nothing too over the top.”
The versatility Davies offers is both a blessing and a curse. Gifted enough to play with a 4, 5, 6 and 8 on his back, in this age of hybrid players, he is in demand. Eddie Jones recently talked about the value of having ‘hybrids’ in his squad and a tall back five player in the mould of Courtney Lawes, Pieter Steph du Toit and Tadhg Beirne is coveted. Davies knows, however, that he doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a utility player in the same way James Hook was during his Wales career.
Putting Davies on the spot and he’s unequivocal where his best position is. “I’m definitely more comfortable playing lock, I’ve played much more there but in the Autumn Series with quite a few injuries I played three of the four games in the backrow, apart from the Australia game. In open play there is no difference what number is on your back, the only difference is in the scrum and I’ll probably always be a jumper at the lineout. I’m happy to play wherever Wales play me.”
You can’t coach what he has, he’s a proper all-court player. He doesn’t need to make any major changes to his game, it’s just about adding those one-percenters
One thing that is beyond doubt is his unique gifts, especially for a lock. Williams admits he was regularly left open-mouthed at his soft skills in training. “When you think about a front-five forward, you think it’s all tunnel vision. For his position, Seb has to be one of the best I’ve ever seen and that’s coming from someone who comes from a part of the world where skill level is extremely high. He can pass comfortably off both hands whereas if you look at some second-rowers, they struggle to pass off one. His skillset is miles above some of the best players I’ve seen in his position.”
Davies isn’t one for shouting his virtues from rooftops preferring to chisel away at his game behind closed doors with improved communication and leadership top of the list. Williams is rooting for his friend’s continued progress on the Test stage. “I just want to see the big fella just cracking on. I don’t want to be looking at him in four or five years time and thinking his best years are behind him when he’s finally playing in his natural position – he’s too good for that. Some skills require hours of practice but with Seb, you can just see it comes naturally. You can’t coach what he has, he’s a proper all-court player. He doesn’t need to make any major changes to his game, it’s just about adding those one-percenters.”
For now, Davies is enjoying being part of a live Six Nations tournament where Wales, the defending champions bought themselves a lifeline with a tense 20-17 win over Scotland. It was a result that lifted dark clouds from the squad after the chastening 29-7 loss out in Dublin. “It felt great at the end of the Scotland game in that huddle. We needed that performance and victory after the disappointment of Ireland. The crowd were fantastic. It was amazing to be out there after we’d worked so hard to put things right in the week. We were so proud it all came to fruition.”
I am desperate to be involved in the England game. Like we did for the Scotland game, we’ll work on our processes and give it a real good go up at Twickenham.
With the build-up to a titanic tussle against England looming, downtime is provided by hacking away on Castle Heights golf course and preparing for the birth of a second child, but no one should be in doubt that Davies desperately covets a starting place in the team. “I am desperate to be involved in the England game. I’m playing for Wales quite regularly, which is my goal. Like we did for the Scotland game, we’ll be focusing on ourselves. We’ll work on our processes and gameplan and give it a real good go up at Twickenham.”
Davies is likely to be facing the likes of Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury and the returning Courtney Lawes, but you won’t find any trash-talking of his English contemporaries. “Those three are all brilliant players. What they all boast is a massive workrate. They’re also hugely physical. Whomever they select, it’s going to be a great challenge for us but we’re relishing it.”
Williams thinks that whatever side Wayne Pivac picks, Davies will not let him down. “Seb is a quiet kid, but he doesn’t lack fire in his belly. When I was playing with him, I would say, ‘flick the switch’ and he could do that, especially if he’s treated right. When he’s on it, he really is one of the best around.”