Top of the props still game as he pre­pares

Western Mail - - SPORT - MARK OR­DERS Rugby cor­re­spon­dent mark.or­[email protected]­

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

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