Dan Biggar is a colossal loss to Welsh rugby. It was no surprise to see his move to Northampton Saints confirmed this week – we all knew it was coming – but that doesn’t make the bitterest of pills any easier to swallow.
When Dan was first linked with the Aviva Premiership, I wrote how the Welsh Rugby Union must move heaven and earth to try and keep him in Wales. To their credit, both the governing body and the Ospreys came up with a good offer, but the way the market is at the moment, Saints could still blow that out of the water. It’s a once in a lifetime contract for Dan and the reality is the money available in Welsh rugby just can’t compete with what’s over the Severn Bridge.
Looking at Dan’s move from a purely selfish point of view, I’d have loved him to stay with the Ospreys. We all want our best players to be in Wales to inspire the next generation of young fans, but as we’ve seen in the past, that’s not always what happens. Players come and players return, but I don’t think anyone in Welsh rugby can deny Dan has given his all during his time here.
What a servant he’s been. His commitment to the Ospreys has been incredible and he’s delivered for his home region with distinction. Just look at his numbers; he’s played at the Liberty Stadium for over a decade and he’s made more than 200 appearances and scored in excess of 2,000 points.
Then there was his match-winning conversion to help the Ospreys lift the Celtic League title in 2012. I’ll always owe Dan for that one because it was the start of some brilliant celebrations!
While I’m sure you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who begrudges Dan his move, what it does do is open up a host of other questions. Will he still be Wales’ fly-half at the next World Cup? Where do the Ospreys go from here? And does this render Gatland’s Law even more redundant?
To kick things off, I’d be very surprised if Dan didn’t wear the Wales No 10 shirt in Japan in 2019, fitness permitting, of course. He’s been first choice for a while now, he’s grown in stature along the way and I thought he was excellent on the Lions tour. He didn’t get the credit he deserved for his performances in New Zealand, but Saints will know they’re buying a top quality acquisition.
There is an argument, too, that Dan will get even better playing in England and if it happens, that undoubtedly will make him an even bigger asset to Wales. Take George North as an example. In the first season he moved to Saints, he played some of his best rugby with Wales. If Dan can do likewise, then Wales along with Northampton will be the ones to benefit.
Of course the one party who loses out big time with Dan moving on is the Ospreys. I feel for my former region here, but the challenge for them is to try and move on as best they can. Luckily for Steve Tandy, they have a guy already on the books who, if not quite a readymade replacement, is a man who can be the team’s guiding hand for the next decade.
Everyone knows how big a fan I am of Sam Davies and the challenge for him in Dan’s absence will be to take his game to a new level. Dan will be giving his all this season to end his time at the Ospreys on a high, but I’d imagine Sam will get more time in the No 10 shirt than he has in the past because Steve will have to start planning for the future.
That can enable Sam to go up a notch and there’s no doubt he will have become a much better player by working with Dan week in, week out. He’s just top, top quality.
I remember Dan’s first senior training session with Wales like it was yesterday. We had won the 2008 Grand Slam and were a pretty good side. We were full of confidence, but one day we worked with the Under-20 side. Dan came in with the younger guys and just blew us all away. Some of his skills were pretty crazy. He was producing little chip kicks for Tom James to chase and he made our defence look very average. We knew then he was going to be something special and I think Warren Gatland did too. He must have done, because it wasn’t long after that before Dan made his international debut.
Now that he’s moving on, what I’d like to see is Sam, Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell put their hands up for international selection. Playing in Wales does give them an advantage and I’d like to see them make a serious case for Warren to pick them, certainly in the squad at the very least.
Sam, I’m sure, will thrive on that opportunity and he’s played some of his best rugby under pressure. I think of the first game of last year’s Six Nations when he came off the bench in Rome. He was excellent in difficult circumstances. Then there was his vital drop goal against Japan. What a moment that was! It showed me there and then that Sam has the bottle to be a true international star. I firmly believe he can, in time of course, fill the void left by Dan because he’s a special player.
Just one other thing on Dan. A lot of people have been asking me about Gatland’s Law. In the season before the 2019 World Cup we’ll have Dan, George, Taulupe Faletau, Liam Williams and Jamie Roberts all playing in England. Then there is Luke Charteris and Rhys Priestland too.
Quite frankly, I don’t think many people are fully aware of what the rule is and in my opinion, it’s all a bit of a mess.
What I do know is that Warren won’t go into a World Cup without having his best players available to him. What that means for Gatland’s Law I don’t know, and I was interested to read in these pages last week that Wales are set to clear the way for their English-based Lions to make the tournament in Japan. For me, it’s time they made the rule clear to everyone concerned, for the sake of the players as much as anyone else.
What I do know for sure, though, is that Dan won’t have moved to Northampton without talking about what it would mean for his international ambitions. I’d expect him to stay in a Wales jersey in the next few years and I think he’ll be a perfect fit for Northampton. Time will tell, but his move could suit both him and Wales in the long term.
The only losers are the Ospreys, but in Sam I think they have a man who can step in fairly quickly.