Playing Scotland in Cardiff has always had special memories for me. This was the fixture in which I made my international debut, played the craziest match I’ve ever been part of and scored my first try double in Test rugby.
Back in 2008 I was picked to start against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium and win my first cap. It was Warren Gatland’s second game in charge of Wales and even though just a week earlier we had beaten England at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years, he decided to drop Mark Jones and pick me, a 21-year-old student, opposite the vastly experienced Chris Paterson.
It was the first time we’d experienced one of Warren’s rockets – dropping a senior player after a momentous win – but I didn’t care. It was the moment I’d dreamt of since I was a child and the proudest day of my life.
The only problem was, I soon began to fear it was to be my last cap. We won the game 30-15 and I felt I did OK. But I was dropped for the following game… and the next game… and the one after that as Wales went on to win the Grand Slam.
I received a Six Nations winner’s medal but I was worried it was all over. Looking back, it was amazing to be part of that squad and I learned so much from guys like Stephen Jones, Tom Shanklin and Martyn Williams.
Two years later and starting to establish myself in the team, I played against Scotland in Cardiff in what was probably the greatest comeback ever seen in the Championship. With less than five minutes to go we were trailing 24-14 and staring at a second successive defeat, after losing to England the week before. Yet somehow we ended the game against 12 men and scored 17 points in six minutes. It was crazy.
We were absolutely out on our feet. I remember having my head in a ruck in the final seconds, thinking I just had nothing left in me. But the Cardiff crowd that day kept us going all the way into injury time.
We levelled the scores in the final seconds and no one would have blamed Scotland for hoofing the kick-off straight into touch, with two guys in the bin and another injured. But Dan Parks, already named man of the match, kicked off as normal. We attacked one last time and Stephen Jones put in a cross-field kick that by all normal laws of nature should have bounced out. Instead it somehow stayed in play and Shane Williams ended up diving between the posts.
Hopefully, we won’t leave things as late as that today but we know it’s going to be tough. As a squad we all watched the Scotland-England game last week and the Scots will know that game was there to be won. They have a lot of threats across the back line, Stuart Hogg is a real danger and they have built some real confidence from the World Cup.
For 80 minutes in their quarter-final against Australia we were all Scotland fans and I was gutted for them. But Vern Cotter has clearly got them playing, there is quality across the board, they’ve had success with their clubs and are only going to be better for another week together.
Saying that, we will be much better and sharper after last week’s opening game in Ireland. A draw is a funny one to get your head around. It’s disappointing that the Grand Slam and Triple Crown have already gone. But we did very well to come back from 13-0 down and by the end we were kicking ourselves that we didn’t win.
To feel like that after playing the defending champions on their home patch says a lot about how far this Wales team has come. But we won the Championship in 2013 after losing the first game, also to Ireland, and we all know what happened last year when teams dropped a game – the title went right to the wire.
So the title race is still wide open. If we win our next four games we’ll be in with a big shout. We just have to get the balance in attack right.
It’s time for a song from my midfield mate ‘Fox’ Davies
Jonathan Davies celebrates his 50th cap for Wales today and I couldn’t be more pleased for my midfield partner.
We’ve spent the last five years playing together and I was gutted for him that he missed the World Cup. It was one of those cruel blows that happen in rugby.
I share a room with “Fox” and I think he’s more nervous about the tradition of singing a song to mark your half-century, though he is keeping his choice of tune to himself.
Thankfully, when I did it we only had to sing on the team bus in front of the lads. But recently we’ve made them sing at the post-match function in front of a much larger audience.
Last weekend in Dublin it was Bradley Davies’ turn. He sang Nat King Cole’s classic “L-O-V-E” and dedicated it to his room-mate Rob Evans. Let’s just say the great Mr Cole would be turning in his grave if he could hear Bradley’s version!
Dan’s rapid recovery is great news – I can hand on my title
I’ve been more than happy to hand over the tag of “Lazarus” to Dan Biggar.
I got branded with the name some years ago when I had a few instances of coming off during matches and then playing in the following game. I got a lot of stick, which was probably deserved.
But I dug the baton out from the back of the cupboard, where it has lain for a few years, and gave it to Dan this week after his miraculous recovery.
It didn’t look good for him when he hobbled out of the Aviva Stadium on crutches but he’s worked tirelessly to get himself back in time, icing throughout the night, working on days off and basically doing whatever it takes.
Dan has been in great form for the last couple of years and is a big-game player for us. But we are lucky to have both Rhys Priestland and Gareth Anscombe in support on the bench.
I look forward to the day I’ll be a simple fan in Cardiff
There’s nowhere quite like Cardiff on international day. I don’t want to wish away my career – hopefully, I’ve got a few years left in me – but one thing I will enjoy doing is joining the rest of the fans on Six Nations day in the Welsh capital.
The fact that the stadium is right in the middle of the city is fantastic and spectators can spill out of the ground and straight into the many bars and restaurants the city has to offer.