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Williams column: Old dog Dan Biggar can drive new Wales era forth

Dan Biggar

DAN Biggar is the old dog with new tricks who is the key to Wales’ Six Nations hopes. Since Wayne Pivac announced his squad for the tournament there has been a lot of focus on the new faces involved and the intent to change the style of play, but if Wales are to replicate last season’s Grand Slam it will be the likes of Dan who will be at the heart of it all.

Last week I welcomed the selection of guys like Nick Tompkins and Will Rowlands, but you can’t put a price on experience and that is what the likes of Dan have in abundance. And he is getting even better since his move to the Premiership.

Dan’s switch to Northampton didn’t get off to the best of starts. The team weren’t playing that well and were getting used to the way Chris Boyd wants to play when Dan joined. Now the Saints – and Dan – are purring and that can only be a good thing for Wales going into the Six Nations.

Dan has often had grief in Wales over being a limited player, one who couldn’t get the backs outside him going. I’ve never subscribed fully to that argument.

Dan is an excellent tactical operator, a great kicker from the floor and out of hand, and a superb defender who is physical. He never shirks a tackle either. But he also has a lot, lot more than that in the locker and if you’ve watched a fair bit of Premiership rugby this season, you’ll have seen it in abundance.

Dan’s form doesn’t surprise me in the slightest – he has always thrived on proving people wrong and as Wales get ready to start a new era under Wayne, he is the perfect man to lead the charge.

We all know by now that Wayne and Stephen Jones want to evolve Wales’ attacking game from the one which was the basis of Warren Gatland’s game plan. That will take time. By the same token, Wayne will want a man to boss his new approach from the word go and Dan is full of confidence right now.

It is still a shame we didn’t see Gareth Anscombe at the World Cup and he won’t feature in the Six Nations either due to his knee injury, but the cruel reality of Test rugby is that one man’s loss is another man’s gain. Dan has taken back the 10 shirt and done it with aplomb.

He was immense in Japan and you have to remember he didn’t have it easy there. He had a couple of bumps and concussion scares yet still delivered when it mattered most.

Dan summed up the never-say-die attitude of Wales under Warren and he can also drive the new era forward under Wayne.

I still remember Dan coming in as an 18-year-old to train with Wales when I was playing. I’m sure he won’t mind me reminding him that at that age he was as arrogant and cocky as they come!

I laugh when I think back to those sessions and the way he bossed the senior guys around! He was a young pup with a lot of confidence and sometimes he had to be pulled into line by the senior guys at the Ospreys when he said too much or things didn’t go his way.

Now there are no toys out the pram with Dan. I think getting married to Alex and having a baby has made a big difference to the way he sees everything and at the moment he’s in a purple patch.

He almost looks untouchable right now. At 30, and with 79 caps to his name, Dan is at an age where he has been there, seen it, and done it.

For him to be evolving his game now is a great example to the other players and I can’t wait to see him lead the Welsh back-line into action against Italy on Saturday.

Leigh Halfpenny
Renaissance: Leigh Halfpenny has come out the stronger side of a bad concussion. Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

A man at a similar age to Dan is Leigh Halfpenny and he too is having something of a renaissance this season. He’s playing some super rugby for the Scarlets and has really seemed to evolve his attacking game under Brad Mooar. He is a real threat again with ball in hand and with Liam Williams ruld out of facing the Azzurri, Leigh is a certain starter for me at full-back at Principality Stadium.

The only question is which one of them will kick the goals. Wales are lucky to have two world class kickers at their disposal and I’m sure there will be a bit of banter flying around on the training ground this week as both players have a competition to see who is on better form.

My hunch is Wales will continue with Leigh as first choice as long as he is on the field with Dan in reserve. That’s not a bad position to be in.

There will be a lot of expectancy for the Italy game and Wayne has some big decisions to make, particularly at scrum-half, outside-centre and in the back row.

The nine shirt is fascinating. Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams and Rhys Webb are the options and you’d have to say most Welsh fans would be happy with any of those starting.

Gareth had a superb World Cup and has carried on that form with the Scarlets while Tomos provided real impact from the bench in Japan. Rhys is now back in the frame and it looks like he’ll be returning to Wales from Toulon before the end of the season. That will be a boost to the Ospreys and Wales, but my hunch is he will have to bide his time a bit in this Six Nations.

Gareth and Tomos are the incumbents and have done nothing wrong. I think both men will suit the quick style of play Wayne wants to implement, especially against Italy in the first game. Wales will want to start with a bang with the match being in Cardiff. It’s a real chance to make a statement.

I want Wales to put down a marker and if Wales and Dan play the rugby they can against a new Italy outfit I can see only one result. Dan will be the one driving the ship and Wales and Wayne couldn’t wish for a better man to be in charge.

I am quietly confident it will be a good Six Nations with the balance Wales have between youth and experience. As World Cup finalists and the northern hemisphere team who performed best in Japan I still think England are favourites, but who knows how they will react on the back of the Saracens salary cap scandal. That is the biggest unknown of this Six Nations.

Last year Wales were galvanised by the abandonment of the proposed merger between the Ospreys and Scarlets and went on to win the title.

England could react in a similar way, but if they don’t Wales will be in a good position to benefit.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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