Sean Holley describes the Ospreys' fly-half Dan Biggar as "probably the most consistent 10 in Wales at the moment, he kicks his goals, he's making more line-breaks than in the past, he's a winner, a tactical organiser and a leader". Oh, and Biggar also kicked the touchline conversion that gave his team last season's Pro12 title when they beat the newly crowned European champions, Leinster, away in Dublin. What, as they say, is not to like? "He's not Barry John," says Holley, the former Ospreys coach and one of Biggar's biggest fans. "Daniel won't ever be fully appreciated until he leaves Wales. When he goes to a big French or English club – if he goes – he will get the recognition he deserves."
Biggar, who turned 23 last Tuesday, has his latest chance in the Heineken Cup at Leicester today to prove Holley right and get picked in Wales's squad to be named tomorrow for the autumn internationals against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
It would represent a recall after Biggar was left out of the summer tour, when Wales lost three Tests to the Wallabies by a fine margin. Neither the Swansea-born No 10 nor, surely, anyone else, will ever stand true comparison with Barry John, the will o' the wisp of the 1960s and '70s against whom only Jonathan Davies and Arwel Thomas in more modern times came close to measuring up in terms of both style and substance.
James Hook was the latest lumbered with the "new John" tag when he broke through six years ago, but he has flitted between Nos 10, 12 and 15. The fly-half incumbent is Rhys Priestland of the Scarlets, but even Biggar's fiercest critics – and there are plenty who claim he is little more than a one-dimensional kicker – would not deny the Ospreys' form at the end of last season and the beginning of this has been the most compelling.
"It's difficult when everyone's got a different opinion of what they want in a fly-half," says Biggar, who has won 10 caps since 2008. "It was disappointing not being picked for the summer tour, there's no getting away from it. But I think it is all open now, every position in any country is up for grabs. Rhys is a fabulous player and he fits into the game plan nicely for Wales. They've had a good 12 months [including a Grand Slam] and Rhys has been the 10. It's made me more determined and really put some fire in my belly to go on and reclaim a place in the squad and push from there."
In truth, fire in the belly has never been the problem. Ice in the veins? Oh yes. Holley tells a story of the Ospreys when he, fellow coach Lyn Jones (now at London Welsh) and director Mike Cuddy were in the coaches' room and the 16-year-old Biggar knocked on the door. "Dan said: 'I've had an offer to go to Harlequins. I expect you might have heard, but I see my future at the Ospreys and I just wanted you to know.' And he shut the door again. We just looked at each other and smiled."
That self-confidence, Holley admits, often strayed into "petulance" – and Holley worked with Biggar to reduce it. "I'd show him clips of his behaviour being detrimental to the team and to people's opinions of him, including referees," Holley recalls. "Stuff like big hand gestures when things went against him. I'm pleased to say, watching from a distance now, those incidents are non-existent."
Biggar, whose contract is up next year, turned down a tentative approach from Racing Metro in France last season. When he emerged for the Ospreys it was alongside six British Lions backs in Shane Williams, Lee Byrne, Hook, Mike Phillips, Gavin Henson and Tommy Bowe.
The £3.5m Welsh regional salary cap, and big wages elsewhere, have drained the Ospreys' backline, leaving new faces Ashley Beck, Eli Walker and Hanno Dirksen to make their mark. But the pack is mostly intact, and was described by one TV pundit last week as the best in Europe. The Ospreys have won their last four matches including a bonus-point start to the Heineken Cup against Treviso nine days ago. It should be a mighty collision with the Tigers.
Biggar works with Wales's kicking coach Neil Jenkins every week, but has he won over Rob Howley, who will be in charge for the first two autumn internationals? "We've spoken over the last couple of years about the mix of his [Biggar's] game," Howley told the Rugby Nation radio show. "We know all about his kicking prowess but it's pleasing to see his running game. We watched against Munster [a 30-15 win three weeks ago] when he played very well and he's carried on that form. When we go to Poland [for training next week] we'll see the number ones in their regions coming together and what they're like in that highly competitive environment. Players react in many different ways."
It sounded like a lingering question over temperament. Meanwhile Biggar says he admires today's opposite number – Leicester's Toby Flood – for being "an honest bloke. I like that about a person. I think that's how he plays the game, he backs himself and he's a real dictator on the field. I'm really looking forward to playing him on Sunday".
In the past two years no fewer than six Wales/British & Irish Lions backs have left Ospreys, while the forwards have stayed fairly constant.
The Ospreys who flew away
Ospreys team v Leicester
23 January 2010
Lee Byrne; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, James Hook, Shane Williams; Dan Biggar, Ricky Januarie; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Jerry Collins, Ryan Jones, Marty Holah.
Byrne (Wales full-back) to Clermont Auvergne; Bowe (Ireland wing) to Ulster; Hook (Wales utility back) to Perpignan; Sonny Parker (Wales centre) to London Welsh; Gavin Henson (Wales utility back) to Saracens/Toulon/Cardiff Blues/London Welsh; Williams (Wales wing) to Japan; Nikki Walker (Scotland wing) to Worcester; Mike Phillips (Wales scrum-half) to Bayonne; Januarie (South Africa scrum-half) to Lyon; James (Wales prop) to Bath; Huw Bennett (Wales hooker) to Lyon; Collins (New Zealand flanker) to Japan; Holah (New Zealand flanker) to Waikato.
Ospreys team v Leicester
21 October 2012
Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Kahn Fotuali'i; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Justin Tipuric.
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