How Davies cracked code to come in from the cold

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am

Jonathan Davies is not only one of rugby's most colourful characters but also one of its most controversial. And he's been around a bit.

The diminutive Davies was schooled in the Welsh language in Trimsaran - a Welsh former mining town 20 miles from Swansea. He left school with two A levels: for Welsh and geography.

There is in irony in the fact the sport he was not considered to have the physique to play allowed him to experience geography empirically, playing internationally for his country.

His small frame was further put to the test when he moved to rugby league. Controversy abounded when he was signed for Widnes Vikings in England. Later, he moved to Australia and played for Sydney's Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in 1991 and the North Queensland Cowboys in 1995.

'I had a young family. I had to think of their future,' he said of the radical shift. 'I turned to league as I was offered a very good package that at the time suited me. They're both very different games, I enjoyed both and I don't have any regrets. '

Perhaps there is more truth in the comment he made on television's A Question of Sport in 1995 when asked what the biggest change was after returning to play rugby union: 'It's the first time I've been cold for seven years. I was never cold playing rugby league.'

The 1988 Welsh tour of New Zealand showed the cracks in the Welsh team at the time. Davies, who captained the side in four games, was the star player. 'I recall we lost one game narrowly. The score was something like 52-3. In the second-last game in Auckland, the score was something like 86-6.'

Despite the fact two tests were lost by 50-point margins and Davies scored a 90-metre try in the second, the tour was the stuff self-effacing Welsh anecdotes are made of: 'In New Zealand, everyone likes rugby. And they like to tell you about it. A lot. I was sitting in a caf? with one of my teammates in Auckland when two old ladies trotted up to us. One pointed her finger to me and said, 'Your feet were all wrong in yesterday's game'. The other said to my teammate, 'You were doing X, and you should have been doing Y'.

'So as they toddled away, having given the New Zealand version of constructive criticism, they smiled at us both and said, 'Good luck tomorrow when you play New Zealand. May the best team win'.

'My teammate turned to me and said, 'I bloody hope not'.'

Despite his humour, Davies admits it 'was with some frustration' after this tour (and a later surprising loss to Romania) that he turned to league after his suggestions for changes in the Welsh game were ignored. 'Eventually, they did make the changes I suggested. It took them 15 years or more to listen.'

Although in many respects Davies had a stellar career and has the outward demeanour of the typically jovial Welshman who loves good banter and storytelling, the hand of fate has dealt him more than his fair share of ups and downs.

In 1995, his wife, Karen was diagnosed with cancer not long after the birth of their third child. She passed away the year after he collected his MBE at Buckingham Palace in 1996. 'Losing a partner is a tough one for anyone, you've just got to make the best of it when it happens and move on.'

He later remarried and his good mate, Ieuan Evans, was best man at his wedding.

His return to union was hampered by the fact he had only ever played flyhalf, but in his pragmatic style, he moved to television, and still commentates for the BBC as well as doing the rounds of the corporate speaking and golf circuit. 'I like commentating, but I liked playing rugby more, it's in the Welsh blood,' said Jones on the eve of leaving Hong Kong after only one night at the Sevens to commentate in Coventry this weekend.

'I only played here once,' he said. 'That was in 1986. I came down with the Irish Wolfhounds as Wales didn't yet have a sevens team. It was very different back then.

'The players would all go and sit in the stadium with the fans; the whole thing was a lot less serious. It was really more of a social event. It's why David Campese always called it a 'junket'.'