Davies goes home to build Wales base with the Blues

 

It is not all sweetness and light in Welsh rugby despite the Grand Slam triumph in this year's Six Nations: the four regional sides are struggling for crowds, struggling for finance and, as a consequence, struggling to hang on to their best talent in the face of big-money raids from France.

All things considered, then, the experienced and highly regarded coach Phil Davies could have chosen a better time to abandon the relative security of life at the top end of the club game in England and head for home.

Yet Davies knew he had to take the plunge at some point if he was to position himself for a tilt at international coaching when Warren Gatland ends his productive association with the Wales team, as the New Zealander is likely to do after the next World Cup in 2015. Hence the former No 8 and Test captain's decision to leave the English Premiership side Worcester after two seasons and move to Cardiff Blues as director of rugby.

"It's a job I've been passionate about for a long time," Davies said yesterday. "The Blues cover a massive region, the biggest in Wales, and it's a great opportunity to build on the foundations laid over the last eight or nine years.

"There is a lot of change happening and with that comes an element of uncertainty. With that in mind there will be growing pains as we develop the capabilities of a very talented group of players and staff. It's important that people understand it's going to take time, but we are on the starting line of something really exciting."

Davies enjoyed a good deal of success during a decade with Leeds, taking them from the old Third Division to Premiership status, twice qualifying for Europe and winning the Powergen Cup in 2005. He subsequently took the Llanelli-based Scarlets to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup in 2007.

One of the most highly qualified coaches in Britain and an outstanding talent-spotter, Davies would be a hot favourite to succeed Gatland if he can deliver a trophy for the Blues over the next couple of seasons.

Among other coaching moves, the South Africans have confirmed their back-room staff for the new season, which begins with the three-match home series against England in June. Heyneke Meyer, appointed to the top job earlier this year, has spent the last few weeks trying to recruit support staff from his old provincial team, the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls, but discussions over financial compensation proved awkward. The deal was finally sealed yesterday, however, clearing the way for Johann van Graan, Ricardo Loubscher and John McFarland to join the national set-up as forwards, backs and defence specialists respectively.

There were two notable retirements yesterday. David Wallace, the long-serving Munster, Ireland and Lions flanker, called it a day after a long struggle with a knee injury suffered during a World Cup warm-up match against England nine months ago. More depressingly, the promising Bath lock Scott Hobson has given up the game at 24 after failing to recover from a serious shoulder problem.

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