Dan Big­gar

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

Rugby World - - CONTENTS - Words Sarah Mock­ford // Pic­tures Getty Images & Huw Evans Agency

PRE-SEA­SON IS

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

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