Sad farewell from Davies

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The Independent Online
Not much sympathy has ever been held out here for sportsmen who cannot accept big disappointments on the field without behaving as though they have just received news of a personal tragedy.

Bobby Charlton, who is nobody's idea of a hard case and wept buckets when England won the 1966 World Cup, once put this succinctly. "We are all made differently," he said, "but I hate it when I see players breaking down because they've lost. It makes me suspicious of their temperament and experience has taught me not to rely on them."

Never cry in defeat is a tenet held sacroscant personally but an exception can be made in the case of Jonathan Davies, who was seen wiping away tears after Wales failed to secure a place in the World Cup final.

It was not the 25-10 loss to England at Old Trafford on Saturday that caused the Welsh captain to make use of his sleeves as tissue while some extremely large men gathered around to console him. It was the realisation that a great career in rugby league is probably over.

As reported here on Saturday, the future for Davies is bound up in negotiations with Warrington, who are unwilling to terminate a two-year contract that prevents a return to rugby union in his homeland. "Now that Wales are out of the World Cup, I want to get things moving," he said. "I've got my family [a third child, Geena, was christened in Cefneithin yesterday] to think about and it's best that we return to Wales."

Another reason at 33, is that rugby union would take a lot less out of him. A familiar crooked smile crossed Davies' face when he said. "It's a damn sight easier. Apart from the money, a big reason why Welsh players move north is to prove themselves. To my mind you can't call yourself a real player unless you have done it in rugby league."

As there are plenty of people in Wales who believe that Davies would still be a force in union, we may not have seen the last of him internationally. Another option, one he hesitates to consider, is retirement. "It may come to that," he said, "but I've just got to wait and see."

Of course, defeat at Old Trafford was not the finale Davies had in mind as he emphasised on Friday night in a hotel close to Manchester airport. "We've got enough to give England more problems than they might be able to handle and they certainly won't be going out there with greater spirit."

Confidence was high enough on the morning of the game for the Welsh squad to think odds of 3-1 generous enough for a pounds 1,000 wager and their management team to make contingency plans for next week's final at Wembley.

Instead they found themselves dispersing, the great adventure more or less over when Denis Betts finished off a sparkling intervention by Andrew Farrell and Tony Smith on the stroke of half-time. That this sent England in with an 11-4 lead was particularly damaging to Welsh morale because they had almost scored a short while earlier. "It was the most important of England's tries," said Wales' manager, Mike Nicholas. "We were always chasing the game after that but nobody can say we didn't make a fight of it."

As television confirmed that the second of two tries made for Martin Offiah by the man of the match, Bobbie Goulding, was not legally completed, there was considerable merit in the rally Wales staged in the final 15 minutes. Rowland Phillips cut England's lead but it was too little, too late. "They were too good for us," Davies said. He also said something about the immensely talented 19-year-old Iestyn Harris, who has already drawn comparisons with the great Barry John. Not another John or a Jonathan Davies, but an original model. Glancing across at the youngster, Davies smiled wistfully. "The rugby world is at his feet," he said.

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