T h e Wale s f l y - h a l f i s e mbr a c i n g h i s n e w c h a l l e n g e a t N o r t h a mpt o n
always tough but it becomes somewhat brutal in a summer-long heatwave. “It’s the first pre-season of my career when we’ve not had a drop of rain in any session,” says Dan Biggar of the build-up to a new campaign with his new club Northampton Saints. “I was talking to Rhys Webb and he’s had more rain down there (in Toulon)! The weather’s had a big effect on how tough pre-season has been but it’s been a good challenge.”
It’s the first time in a decade that Biggar hasn’t been preparing for a season at Ospreys alongside the likes of Webb, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric. He’s swapped South Wales for the East Midlands and it’s all kinds of different – different club, different players, different coaches, different house. It is the chance to test himself in a different environment that was so central to his decision to move to England, though.
“The biggest difference is it’s a change,” he says. “A change of environment, a change of voices and perspective, new and fresh ideas. There’s a great group of people here and it’s refreshing.”
He says Harry Mallinder went out of his way to welcome him to Saints, albeit by taking him to the pub to watch England during the Football World Cup, and he has settled in a small town between Northampton and Oxford with wife Alex and son James.
“The biggest thing is knowing my wife and little boy are okay,” the 28-year-old says. “I come into training with 40-odd boys so I can pick up friendships easily, so the big thing for me has been making sure she’s happy and settled.”
With the family sorted, Biggar has been able to concentrate on the rugby and how he can help Northampton arrest their dramatic slide. As recently as 2015 they topped the Premiership table but their decline saw them finish ninth last season. The Wales fly-half is the biggest on-field signing Saints have made, particularly as a world-class ten has long been on the club’s most wanted list, and Biggar won’t be shy in calling the shots. Being vocal is as much a part of his game as goalkicking.
He recognises that he will be key to implementing Saints’ game plan under new director of rugby Chris Boyd. The Kiwi may have only arrived at Franklin’s Gardens in early August after completing his Hurricanes duties in Super Rugby, but he was having conversations with Biggar before the last season had finished.
“Chris is looking forward to playing an attractive style of rugby but ultimately a winning brand of rugby. It’s about trying to balance the two. We want to build enough to play some rugby that’s exciting and be pragmatic too.
“In the Premiership you have to be on the money every week. In the Pro14, clubs may send a second team the weekend following international periods or ahead of a Champions Cup game. Here you could face Saracens, Gloucester and Exeter in three or four weeks, all teams are fighting for top-four and European places. So there are no easy games and I think the intensity week in, week out will be a change.
“Everyone’s disappointed by the last 18 months or so. This is a big club and it’s a big couple of years trying to challenge for the top four and the title again. We know we can’t go from nought to 100, we need to build our way back up.”
While his immediate focus is on Saints, Wales will be on the agenda soon enough. He has the necessary 60 caps (62 in fact) to be picked for Wales even though he’s playing outside the Principality, but Warren Gatland has warned the fly-half that he’s put his Test place in jeopardy by moving clubs. Biggar was rested for Wales’ June tour, with Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell performing well in the No 10 jersey against South Africa and Argentina. With Wales’ first autumn Test outside the international window, making it highly unlikely Biggar will be released because Saints would face a Premiership Rugby fine, the pressure appears to be on – not that the man himself is showing any signs of feeling it.
“For me, selection is someone’s opinion and they may decide to go in another direction. There’s competition in every position in Wales and that’s good. My priority now is the club that employs me and pays my wages. I have to get my house in order here as I would do if I was playing for a Welsh region. It makes no difference if I’m playing for Ospreys or Northampton – I’m eligible to play for Wales in the same way. I want to play for Wales in every game – that’s the pinnacle for me.”
Helping to rejuvenate Saints in the first few months of the season will help his Wales case – and he won’t mind the competition hotting up. After all, he’s already survived the heat once this year.
Age 28 (16 Oct 1989)Born Swansea Club Northampton Position Fly-half Height 6ft 2in Weight 14st 7lb Wales caps 62Points 295(3T, 44C, 58P, 6DG)
SPORTSPEOPLE ROGER FEDERER “I’m a big tennis fan and he’s a player at the very top.”USAIN BOLT“Not only was he good but there was no one close to him.”SERENA WILLIAMS
“She’s dominated the women’s game with all those Slams.”
A dab hand Biggar is looking to impress for Saints