Top of the props still game as he prepares
IT’S a long time since John Davies received a nasty shock while daring to put his hand into a maul during a Test for Wales against France in Paris.
The then Neath prop was promptly bitten on the finger by home hooker Jean-Francois Tordo – an experience that made such an impression on Davies that he later named his pet dog after the French skipper.
The episode is one he will never forget.
But he never let it blunt his appetite for rugby and he hit the headlines earlier this season when filling in off the bench as a 49-year-old in a game for his village club Crymych. Let no-one doubt that is a big number for anyone taking the field for a game of rugby, but Davies isn’t finished yet.
“You never say never,” says the West Wales farmer. “I’m 50 in February and if we have injuries or are short for whatever reason, I’ll happily step up.”
The winner of 34 caps for Wales between 1991 and 1998, the former tight-head spent time at Neath, Richmond, Llanelli and their regional incarnation the Scarlets before returning to his roots with Crymych, where he played regularly for five seasons.
He still helps out with the coaching at the Pembrokeshire club, a labour of love that keeps him in touch with the game.
As this video shows, he’s also in fine form off the field, winning a recent clubhouse “boat race” by polishing off his pint in three seconds. You can read a bit more about that here.
But nowadays he only takes the field in emergencies. “It’s not beyond me to have the occasional run-out,” he laughs.
“I played for the seconds last year and for the firsts this year.
“I tend to only get the call when the boys are short – needs must and all that. Youngsters have a lot of options in front of them these days and sometimes it isn’t easy to keep a focus. But it was great for me to get on the field again.
“I think I’m still fit enough to do a job in an emergency.
“But I’m also doing triathlons, so I have to look after my body a bit more than I would if I were playing rugby regularly.”
It is easy to forget how much of a force Davies was in his prime.
When Welsh top-flight coaches were asked to picked a dream team of players who had featured in the first five years of the Heineken League Premier Division, there was only one unanimous choice and that was Davies.
He had built his reputation as part of Neath’s all-farming front row with Brian Williams and Kevin Phillips, the trio travelling across to The Gnoll from West Wales to train and play. “They were great days,” says Davies.
“It came as a hell of a shock when Brian passed away so young.
“He was only 46 and that is way too young for anyone to leave us.
“It was a great experience playing and training alongside him, Kevin and the others at Neath – humbling. I went there as a raw 19-year-old, a boy really, and was educated in rugby and the ways of the world. It was a life education, something I’ve always been grateful for.”
Neath’s difficulties this term have saddened Davies, a former club captain. “It’s been tough for them,” he says.
“They’re a great club with an incredible history and you don’t want them or anyone else to experience such problems.
“I don’t know the ins-and-outs of it, but I guess it shows what professionalism or semi-professionalism in this case can do.
“I guess there are lessons there for everyone.”
> John Davies, right, celebrates Principality Cup success with Ian Boobyer, left, and Aled Gravelle in 2003
> John Davies says he will carry on playing for Crymych – but only in an emergency