Jonathan Davies with the British and Irish Lions: Living the dream after replacing a hero

Welshman once asked for Brian O'Driscoll's shirt as a souvenir, but now he is quietly confident with taking his position for the series decider

When Wales beat Ireland in the quarter-final of the last World Cup, in New Zealand a little over a year and a half ago, Jonathan Davies' first instinct was not to embark on a lap of honour, or phone his family, or head for the bar. The one thing he really wanted was Brian O'Driscoll's shirt as a memento. Little did he suspect that here in Australia, ahead of the biggest game of the rugby year, he would lay hands on the great Dubliner's jersey for a second time… and end up wearing it instead of him.

Davies recounted the World Cup story in this newspaper back in March, shortly after he had played a leading role in bursting England's Grand Slam bubble and helping his country to another of their regular Six Nations titles. "I was still a little in awe of him, even then," he recalled, "so I thought it would be nice to have his shirt as a souvenir. Brian was doing media, so I stood there waiting for him like a supporter, which, in a way, I was. When the moment came, he said, 'No problem' and we swapped. I was pretty chuffed."

If he was "chuffed" then, he must be in a state of bliss right now. Certainly, it seemed that way. While the full-force gale over O'Driscoll's demotion from the Lions side for Saturday's climactic meeting with the Wallabies was continuing to blow through Ireland, with everyone from Willie John McBride to Martin McGuinness gusting away with the best of them, the quiet Welshman breezed through an intensive interrogation with a remarkable degree of calm.

Having spent more minutes on the field than any other Lion in the party and played out of position in a make-do-and-mend Test partnership with O'Driscoll, the 25-year-old Scarlets midfielder – born in Solihull but raised from a very young age in Bancyfelin, a village just to the west of Carmarthen – has been one of the tour's obvious successes. All the same, did he even begin to imagine that he might play all three Tests?

"That was the dream," he said. "Beforehand, everyone was talking about this being the best rugby environment you could experience, and it's lived up to that for me. It's been shown how important the Lions are to everyone in the game and I feel humble to be a part of it. But the main thing from a player's perspective is delivering under pressure, and that's something I've been working on over the last few years. It's slowly coming together. I'm reasonably pleased with the form I've showed but I want to keep pushing myself forward. What I want most of all, right now, is to finish the task we've set ourselves."

Unlike O'Driscoll, who had already been told he was out, Davies did not know he was in until Warren Gatland, the head coach, revealed his hand before Wednesday morning's training session on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. "I'm not sure if everyone in the squad was shocked when the team was named; I was just glad to get the nod," he said. "What struck me most was the attitude in training from the players who weren't in the squad and wouldn't be involved, which was obviously a huge disappointment for them.

"They're the ones who make the sessions, who do as much as anyone to prepare us as a team. If they can deliver a high standard having learnt that they're not playing, those who have been picked have no choice but to work at a high standard, too. Brian has been such a big part of that. He may not like me saying this, but I grew up watching him play and admiring his rugby. To play against him, and now to have played alongside him, has been wonderful. He has my respect."

While Davies understood completely that most of the discussion about his selection would have its genesis in O'Driscoll's omission – "I did expect a few questions about it," he said with a grin, "it just shows how good a player Brian is" – his new understudy, Manu Tuilagi, showed few signs of recognising that anything dramatic had happened at all. The human bowling ball had not been particularly tense during the build-up to the team confirmation, and could win his first Test cap of the series from the bench.

"For me, I just woke up, went straight into the meeting room and they announced it," Tuilagi recalled with what amounted to a verbal shrug. "I didn't hear anyone else's name but my own. I didn't even know who else was in the team. This is the biggest match of my career, but I won't put any added pressure on myself. I'll play my normal game and try to make an impact. After my second game in Australia, when I injured my shoulder, I thought my tour was over. I thank God that I'm still here. That's why there's no pressure. It's a rugby match. You can't think too much about it."

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



We can rest assured that O'Driscoll is thinking about it, every waking minute. We can also assume that just at the moment, the Irishman does not feel like laughing at any of Tuilagi's wisecracks. (Along with his fellow ultra-reticent South Sea Islanders Mako Vunipola and Toby Faletau, the English Samoan has been on "joke of the day" duty since the start of the tour. As he has about as much in common with Bob Monkhouse as he does with a seven-stone weakling on an Atkins diet, the mind boggles.)

Whether the Lions are laughing with him or at him, Tuilagi will be deadly serious on Saturday. Not as serious as Davies, though. If his new Lions- old Wales centre partnership with Jamie Roberts can just find a way of asking the odd unanswerable question of Christian Leali'ifano and Adam Ashley-Cooper, all is not lost for the tourists. And if Davies can see off a figure as significant as Brian O'Driscoll, who is to say he will not find a way past a couple of Wallabies?

Davies' details: Jonathan's tour

Jonathan Davies has played in six games on the tour (five starts) for a total of 423 minutes – the most by any player. He scored tries in three of his four warm-up appearances.

In all tour games

Tries 3 (second most of Lions players)

Carries 55 (third most)

Tackles completed 17 (third most)

Metres gained 270 (fourth most)

Offloads 6 (fifth most)

Test stats, Davies v O'Driscoll

Davies has made 14 carries for 42m, 17 tackles and three missed with five kicks and three passes.

O'Driscoll has made nine carries for 26m, 23 tackles and none missed, with two kicks and nine passes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project