MEFIN, THE ULTIMATE CELTIC WARRIOR
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...
“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
“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.”
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.”
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.