Do I not like that . . .: Fanfare for modern man: Alan Davies, Wales rugby union coach, thinks his compatriots should praise Scott Gibbs not curse his memory

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE departure of Scott Gibbs from our game in Wales to play for St Helens will have left many in the Principality in a state of despair. 'Here we go again, the game should be open', or 'What a terrible person Gibbs is', will be among the heartfelt cries.

There is no doubt that Gibbs the player is a great loss to rugby union. He has the physique and the talent to have developed into one of the greats. As a young man of extreme promise, the test of his mental strength has been severe, both personally and publicly. Particularly in Wales, modern international rugby union exerts a pressure that demands a maturity beyond the capability of some young players. It is ironic that Gibbs, whose occasional misdemeanours have led some people to think he failed the test, should have prompted much of the original thought on the lot of the Welsh rugby union footballer by the offers he has had over the years to change codes.

The biggest difference between the professional and amateur sportsperson is the amount of time they are able to devote to preparation for their sport. The commitment and expertise amateurs - and those who support them - show is equivalent, and in some cases greater, than their professional counterparts.

The advent of professional rugby union may not be too far distant. But I have my doubts that it would make decisions any easier. To give up a career to become a full-time sportsman is something many individuals would find too great a commitment. The individual, of course, is what this is all about; ultimately he has to decide whether he wants to stay in the union game.

Gibbs made a positive decision in 1992 to stay when the offers came in from rugby league. At this point Robert Norster (the Wales team manager) and I decided to place an emphasis on the development of the individual. We needed to provide some philosophy to influence the players' ability to make a decision. We recognised that some form of accelerated training in mental maturity was required for very young, physically mature and talented players, such as Gibbs.

We introduced the players in our squad to the idea of 'international player lifestyle management'. This recognised the specific needs of the Wales team members as distinct from those of the club player. He would have to pay special attention to the elements of his life affected by the choice to play international rugby. His home life, career, public profile, physical and psychological development, specific technique and skill all required growth.

The modern international cannot ignore his home commitment, be boorish in public, eat the wrong food, fail to cope with pressure or limit the amount of time he spends in practice. He has to attend to these elements of his life if he wants to be part of the Welsh team. Similarly, the Welsh Rugby Union has to pay equal attention to these elements of a player's life if it wishes the game to grow and achieve a decent international status.

Every time Gibbs threatened to go to rugby league, the momentum to implement these necessary changes in providing support increased. Richard Webster's departure to Salford at the beginning of this season helped the cause. The Welsh players have improved their lifestyle; the WRU has supported them within the guidelines of the amateur regulations. Individuals such as Ieuan Evans and Neil Jenkins have grown, and become more mature more quickly than some critics would have dared to believe.

The change, like all change, has to be managed, and does not happen instantly. The personal counselling Scott Gibbs received from his club, the international management, employers, legal advisers, medicine and sports scientists and friends is a model for any sport. It made him a world-class player last year. What it did not do for Scott, and will not do for any player, is remove the right to make decisions.

Thank you Scott Gibbs for helping us to think more creatively about the future of our great game in Wales. Goodbye and take care.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments