MEFIN, THE UL­TI­MATE CELTIC WAR­RIOR

Llanelli Star - - RUGBY - MARK OR­DERS Rugby cor­re­spon­dent mark.or­[email protected]­line.co.uk

AN an­niver­sary is ap­proach­ing that Wales Grand Slam win­ner Mefin Davies will very def­i­nitely NOT be cel­e­brat­ing.

For it is close on 15 years since the Celtic War­riors were liq­ui­dated and in­di­vid­ual play­ers were called into a room one by one to learn where they would be play­ing the fol­low­ing sea­son. Most were of­fered op­tions. De­spite being Wales’s hooker at the time, and among the most re­spected play­ers in the coun­try, Davies had not a sin­gle of­fer on the ta­ble.

Ef­fec­tively, Welsh rugby was toss­ing an in­ter­na­tional player on to the scrapheap.

The for­mer Ys­gol Gy­fun Bro Myrd­din, Car­marthen, pupil did even­tu­ally re­turn to pro­fes­sional rugby.

But the events of that day, and the way he and oth­ers were treated, re­main seared into his mem­ory bank...

CAT­TLE MAR­KET

“I will never for­get what hap­pened – it was like a cat­tle mar­ket,” he says now.

“We were called into a room one by one to learn our fate.

“Play­ers were told whether clubs were in­ter­ested in them or not.

“Brent Cock­bain went into his meet­ing and came out say­ing: ‘There are two clubs in­ter­ested in me – the Ospreys and some­one else. I re­mem­ber Kevin Mor­gan had a cou­ple of clubs who wanted him. But there was noth­ing for me.

“It took some un­der­stand­ing. There I was, a long-stand­ing mem­ber of the Wales squad, and no Welsh re­gion wanted me to play for them. And there were oth­ers who weren’t wanted, too.

“I just think the whole process, ev­ery­thing about it and not just what hap­pened to me, was done badly. It was hor­rific.

“It wasn’t just the play­ers. It was also the staff, the peo­ple be­hind the scenes. I felt for the coaches, Al­lan Lewis and Lynn How­ells. Lynn, a for­mer Wales coach, left and hasn’t had a front-line job in Welsh rugby since, which is bizarre.

“He’s a guy of in­tegrity and great mo­ral stand­ing who has vast rugby knowledge. My guess is that most peo­ple who’ve worked with Lynn would speak well of him. Some of the War­riors’ acad­emy play­ers dis­ap­peared, too.

“It just wasn’t a great chap­ter.”

HARD MEN IN TEARS

The Welsh Rugby Union dis­banded the War­riors af­ter the four other re­gions al­legedly chipped in to make up the £1.25 mil­lion needed to buy Leighton Sa­muel’s share in the Brid­gend-Pon­typridd en­tity.

But it was the vir­tual fire-sale of play­ers which truly high­lighted how messy the whole busi­ness was.

Davies found him­self in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How­ells, War­riors head coach when it the end came, remembers how shab­bily the Wales front-rower, in par­tic­u­lar, was treated. “What hap­pened to Mefin was dis­gust­ing,” he says.

“He was a Wales in­ter­na­tional player who gave his all for the cause.

“It was a hard time for him. He de­served bet­ter and so did oth­ers who found them­selves in the same po­si­tion.”

In his hard-hit­ting book, De­spite the knock-backs, How­ells says: “One by one they were told which re­gion or in some cases re­gions wanted them, or the knife was stuck in and they were told no-one wanted them.

“It was bru­tal and sav­age...Some of the play­ers who came out of the room were rel­a­tively happy, though ‘re­lieved’ might be a bet­ter word. “Oth­ers were devastated. “Ton­gan Maama Moli­tika, for in­stance, one of the tough­est men you could wish to meet, wasn’t wanted by any­one, and he was in tears.

“It wasn’t just the play­ers, ei­ther; it was the other peo­ple who were af­fected, the fam­i­lies with houses to pay for and bills to pay.”

It was an in­glo­ri­ous episode by any stan­dard.

FIST­FUL OF EU­ROS?

There was a po­ten­tial life­line for Davies when then French cham­pi­ons Stade Fran­cais came in with a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive of­fer.

For the club­less No. 2 it must have been tempt­ing.

But the op­por­tu­nity came with a catch. Stade wanted the Nant­garedig-born Welsh-speaker to fo­cus all his en­er­gies on them and give up play­ing for Wales.

What was he to do? Ac­cept Stade’s fist­ful of eu­ros, com­plete with small­print clause re­quir­ing him to turn his back on his coun­try, or take up an of­fer from Neath to play part-time in the Welsh Premier­ship, worth £9,000 a year?

He joined the Welsh All Blacks. “The Stade Fran­cais deal was for two years,” he remembers.

“I went there, met them and they put their op­por­tu­nity on the ta­ble.

“But the stick­ing point was they said: ‘We want you to play 40 games a sea­son here. We don’t want you to play for Wales.’

“So, ef­fec­tively I was being asked to give up in­ter­na­tional rugby.

“Paris isn’t far from Wales, but it was a long flight home. I spoke with Wales coach Mike Rud­dock when I got back to ask him if I fea­tured in his plans. Then it was a ques­tion of who I would play for if I didn’t move to France.

“I ended up turn­ing down Stade and join­ing Neath in the Welsh Premier­ship.

“I ac­tu­ally played a lot on the bench for the Ospreys at that time, as cover for Barry Wil­liams, while Richard Hib­bard was com­ing through.

“I then had an ap­proach from Glouces­ter ahead of the Ospreys play­ing a Eu­ro­pean Cup match against Har­le­quins in Lon­don. We won the game and the very next day I had an of­fer from Der­wyn Jones, who was work­ing for the Ospreys at the time, of­fer­ing a two-year deal with the Ospreys.

“By then I’d had enough of Welsh rugby’s pol­i­tics, so I joined Glouces

ter.

“I’d been on tour to Ar­gentina and South Africa with Wales with no job and un­cer­tainty over my ca­reer.

“Row­land Phillips was fan­tas­tic in trying to help me out and I was grate­ful to Neath. But the Ospreys of­fer came too late in the day.

“Enough was enough af­ter six months of not really know­ing what I’d be do­ing. I’d given Glouces­ter my word and I stuck to it.”

NO RE­GRETS

Later that sea­son Davies was re­warded for his loyalty to Wales when they won the Grand Slam.

“I have never re­gret­ted do­ing what I did,” he says. “Things hadn’t been too good with Wales in the previous cou­ple of years, but we were on a jour­ney and I wanted to stay on it.

“I didn’t want to look back and won­der what might have been.

“Not long af­ter, we ended up win­ning our first Grand Slam in 27 years.

“Stade’s of­fer was at­trac­tive be­cause it was a job com­pared to not hav­ing a job.

“But the price of giv­ing up Test rugby was too high. My heart and soul were in play­ing for Wales. Join­ing Stade wouldn’t have been the right de­ci­sion.”

TRAV­EL­LING MAN

Davies is ac­tu­ally the fa­ther of a Grand Slam baby, with his wife Ang­harad giv­ing birth to a daugh­ter just days af­ter Wales com­pleted their his­toric clean sweep 14 years ago.

The 46-year-old is still based in Wales, liv­ing in Dryslwyn in Car­marthen­shire and com­mut­ing daily to work as Worces­ter War­riors as­sis­tant for­wards coach and scrum coach.

The trek can see him spend up five and half hours on the road some days.

“I stay overnight once a week,” he laughs.

“It takes me just over two hours in the morn­ing and two and a half hours com­ing home at night, three and a half on a Fri­day.

“But I en­joy my job and Worces­ter are a good club to be in­volved with.”

The qual­i­fied elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer says: “I’ve worked with some ex­cel­lent coaches and learned a lot from peo­ple like Dean Ryan, Gary Gold and Alan Solomons.

“My job, the point of ev­ery coach, is to make play­ers bet­ter. Hope­fully, I’m do­ing that.

“The league is de­mand­ing and you have to be on the ball. But it is also sat­is­fy­ing when you see some­one mak­ing im­prove­ments and you have helped in a small way in that process.”

The easy-go­ing and straigh­tas-a-die Davies has vast ex­pe­ri­ence, deep tech­ni­cal knowledge and is blessed with peo­ple skills which he uses ex­pertly in a squad en­vi­ron­ment. Play­ers who work with him are in­vari­ably bet­ter for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Would he ever re­turn to coach in Wales?

“You can’t pre­dict the fu­ture,” he says. “But Worces­ter have been great for me.”

Mefin Davies in ac­tion for Wales against Tonga in the 2003 World Cup in Aus­tralia.

Mefin Davies (right) and Adam Jones with the Six Na­tions trophy af­ter Wales beat Ire­land to win the 2005 Grand Slam.

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