Stage for a thinker not a jinker

Jonathan Davies is pleased his speed of thought impressed the Lions selectors
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Hours after England beat us last weekend, I represented Wales in a drinking contest against England - and lost that as well. It was near the end of the official banquet and the Welsh captain, Jonathan Humphries, called up Will Carling and me, because it was our last Five Nations game, and the Leicester prop Darren Garforth, because he'd won his first England cap, to see who could drink a pint quickest.

Garforth was the easy winner, Carling was second and I, more of a sipper than a gulper, came last. There was still half an inch in my glass so I threw it over Humph for thinking of the idea in the first place.

Who says the fun's gone out of rugby? Both teams celebrated a tense and emotional game in very good spirits, even though I had to sit opposite Jeremy Guscott and be sworn at for tapping his heels just as he was imagining the headlines about a wonderful try.

It was a great day and although I hated losing I was pleased with my contribution. But my real pleasure came when I found that I was a candidate for the Lions tour. When I wasn't in the original 62, I complained that some of us hadn't had an opportunity to make a claim. But Fran Cotton said that it wasn't too late for others to be considered and he's been true to his word. I was even more impressed when he gave his reasons why I would be considered because it seemed that the Lions selectors had appreciated my efforts in that game.

Many others seemed to have already made their minds up that I'd lost my spark - despite the fact that I managed to make try-saving tackles on three pretty quick opponents. Looking back, it is nine years since I was first accused of slowing up. In 1988 - the last time Wales won the Triple Crown - we beat England 11-3 at Twickenham and I was well on my way to scoring a try when Jonathan Webb caught me from behind with a great tackle around my ankles.

A voice in the press box shouted: "He's not as quick as he was." Since I was 25 at the time, it didn't bother me particularly but it was unfair on Webb that some preferred to cast doubts on my speed rather than praise his.

You get used from a relatively early age to being pronounced as past it. In 1994, many in league were convinced that my pace had gone but two days short of my 32nd birthday I scored a 60-yard try for Great Britain against Australia and that seemed to shut them up.

That try was two and a half years ago. Could I do it today? The honest answer is that I suspect not but I don't really know. The years must take a toll but I still think I'm sharper than most and if I'm put into space I still fancy myself to do the job.

The trouble is that people expect me to be the same as I was 10 years ago. But I've changed as a player and, more importantly, the game has changed even more. A lot of reports after the England game said I'd lost the pace to make breaks; but it wasn't a lack of pace that stopped me making breaks it was the lack of openings England allowed.

Unless I'm throwing in a few jinking runs, people think I'm having a bad game but thinking is more important than jinking. My best attribute has always been speed of thought. And, whatever you say about my legs, my brain is still quick.

These days, you need to be able to read a game and react to it rapidly in defence as much as in attack. The critics who questioned my pace praised my tackling but didn't seem to realise that you need the same abilities to make that sort of tackle as you do to make a break.

For instance, I sensed Phil de Glanville was going to pass to Austin Healey at least as soon as Phil did. So, when Healey took the pass, I was already well on my way. It was the same with my tackle on Jon Sleightholme. Almost before he had the ball, I was covering against the probability that he'd be racing for the corner. And I was able to get a finger-tip to Guscott's heel because I anticipated his run and had the pace and the angle to catch him.

Strangely, it was a farewell game that worked wonders for my appetite for big-time rugby and the fact that the Lions selectors are looking seriously at my claims is the biggest compliment I could have. Whether or not they let me in, I am delighted they've heard me banging on the door.

Comments