Binned, banned and a medal sent by post
Hugh Godwin on what happened next to Wales' bad boy, Bradley Davies
There is just one quibble Bradley Davies has with the opprobrium over the violent "tip" tackle on Ireland's Donnacha Ryan that made him briefly the most talked-about man in the recent Six Nations' Championship, and eventually the forgotten outsider of Wales's Grand Slam. "I've had criticism off the coaching staff, which is fair enough," Davies says. "Everyone's got a right to criticise me, and what I did was not a good advert for the game. But some of the comments were harsh; there was no intent to inflict hurt on Donnacha and I'm really glad he made a full recovery and went on to have an outstanding Six Nations."
For Davies, the Cardiff Blues lock, the tournament began and ended on the first rush-of-blood-to-the-head Sunday, when Wales won in Ireland but he was sent to the sin-bin, then cited and suspended for pulling Ryan away from a ruck, lifting him and dropping him head first.
The red mist cost Davies his red Wales shirt with a seven-week ban that ended last Monday. "It was heat-of-the-moment stuff," he says. "It went so quick. I didn't purposely mean to drop him from that height or throw him to the floor. We had a bit of a tussle and I just thought, 'Right, chuck him off me'. As it happened, he fell awkwardly. I was ashamed at the time and after the game, but I shook the guy's hand and fair enough to him, he shook mine."
While Ryan played on, Davies was out of the matches against Scotland, England, Italy and France. It was left to Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris to hold the second-row fort. They did it well.
Davies completed a three-week training bloc with Wales but otherwise kept himself to himself. Not for him dressing in civvies and hanging around the Millennium Stadium with a forced smile. His Six Nations winners' medal was sent in the post.
"I was invited to matches but the boys didn't need to see me drooping around the place, dragging them down. Sometimes you think, 'I can't wait for a break, what a holiday would do for me right now.' But two weeks into my ban I was running into my girlfriend in the kitchen, tackling her. It's been good to get a ball back in my hands, something that isn't a dumbbell."
He expects a continuing exclusion when the head coach, Warren Gatland, picks the squad to tour Australia in June. "It's going to be very difficult to get back in the squad, so that's two massive blows," he says. "I've just got to try and build back with the Blues."
Davies, now 25, was capped in 2009, earning great respect when he played on with no diminution of his ball-carrying and tight work in the week his mother Cheryl died unexpectedly during the 2010 Six Nations.
The ban served, he returned for the Blues as captain in the 31-3 thrashing at Glasgow on Friday, and awaits next weekend's red-letter date with Leinster in the Heineken Cup – a return to the scene of his crime at the Aviva Stadium, to be refereed by England's Dave Pearson who was the assistant who recommended only a yellow card for the incident. Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts also reappeared against Glasgow, joining fellow Wales backs Alex Cuthbert and Lloyd Williams, but Roberts came off with a twisted left knee which could be a new blow with Wales captain Sam Warburton already out with a shoulder injury.
After five lean years in the Heineken Cup the Blues' record over the last four is reasonably good; a quarter- and semi-final respectively, then pool runners-up in 2010 and 2011. Still, overall there is Welsh angst at no team making the premier final since 1995-96, whereas the Irish have thrived.
"We are well coached and well managed but we can't live with some of the budgets that are out there," says Davies. "All we can do is believe in ourselves. Leinster and Munster consistently won home games and reached the quarters, and then returned the year after and they were building blocks. All of a sudden, bang, Leinster won two Heineken Cups. And now they've called up Brad Thorn from New Zealand.
"We got out of our group and we sat down and said, 'Can we get further?' It's going to be a massive challenge but what better way to do it than going to the Aviva and win? It would give us confidence snowballing into the semis. We got pumped in Leinster by 50 points just after the World Cup, when most of the internationals were missing, but otherwise it's been really close against them.
"It's been mental here after the Grand Slam, people celebrating. Maybe it will rub off on the Blues; our Wales boys are brimming full of confidence."
The brawn drain
Bradley Davies is a third of the way through a three-year contract and is happy staying near his Rhondda home. But his Blues and Wales team-mate Gethin Jenkins is joining the player drain to France and is off to Toulon, with wages across the Channel around three times higher than in Wales.
"I'd never criticise boys for that decision to go," says Davies. "In some cases we don't know all the facts of whether they had a chance to stay in Wales; did they have an offer to stay? We have a salary cap and that will sustain a future for the regions, for the backroom staff and the people who work in the office.
"Some of the French clubs will have phenomenal squads next season. The Blues will have a homegrown bunch of lads and maybe the underdog tag will work for us."
Justin Burnell, the Blues' coach, said last week of Jenkins, 31, and wing Alex Cuthbert, 21: "Good luck to Gethin. If players are going away in the latter part of their career to get their pension fund sorted, good luck to them.
"But I don't think Alex has got any reason to leave us."
Going Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues to Toulon), Luke Charteris (Newport-Gwent Dragons to Perpignan), Huw Bennett (Ospreys to Lyon), Aled Brew (Dragons to Biarritz).
Rumoured to be going Dan Lydiate (Dragons to Toulouse), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues to Toulon).
Gone Lee Byrne (joined Clermont Auvergne 2011), Mike Phillips (Bayonne 2011), James Hook (Perpignan 2011).
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