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James Davies . . . The Wales Cub Who Has Finally Outfoxed Them All

When James Davies took a blow to the head playing against England, he thought the brother he calls “Golden Balls” had turned him over again.

Big bro Jonathan – three years older (28 to 31), 70 more caps for Wales (five to 75) and a double Lions tourist (no caps v six) – has always made sure James lives in his shadow.

Who knows? You wouldn’t be surprised if you heard that Jonathan had been upgraded to first class on the squad’s flight out to Tokyo last night, while James had been relegated from business class to cattle.

It was the way of things growing up in the Fox and Hounds pub in the Carmarthenshire village of Bancyfelin, where Jonathan was nicknamed ‘Fox’ and James had to settle for ‘Cubby’.

The Scarlets flanker feared Jonathan had put him out of the World Cup three weeks ago, when his elder sibling accidentally bashed him at a ruck.

“I was over the moon when I got the opportunity against England,” says James, who needed at least one big game in the warm-up Tests to convince Warren Gatland he was worth a gamble.

“Then, I took a fairly inconspicuous knock to the head from my brother and had to go off. I think he was just trying to keep the limelight off himself, as usual.

“Thankfully, I got another opportunity against Ireland and I took it. Now, I want more opportunities in Japan.”

Cubby – who has that nickname tattooed on his knuckles from an infamous lost weekend in Las Vegas – reckons Jon Fox has been cunningly keeping the young pup out of the Wales team for years.

Ask him what influence his brother may have been in selection for the Wales’ squad for the tournament and he says: “He’s been no influence or help whatsoever.

“In fact, because he’s always had a good relationship with Warren Gatland I used to ask him, ‘Are you telling Gatland not to pick me?’

“I think he was more nervous about me being selected in the squad than about himself being left out.

James Davies in action for the Scarlets. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

“But in fairness, he’s now very excited and so are the rest of the family. My mum and dad had already booked for Japan because Golden Balls was always likely to be going.

“Now, they can get to see both their sons in the squad, which is great. So, in a sense, they’re getting two for the price of one.”

The younger Davies has always been a player with something to prove – both on and off the field.

His carefree persona – almost a throwback to rugby’s amateur days – has often turned some coaches against him, while his 15st frame was considered too small for an international forward.

He was part of the GB Sevens squad that reached the Olympic final in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but few felt he would catch Gatland’s eye.

“Maybe my character counted against me earlier in my career. Some people made hard and firm opinions about me and sometimes those people got it wrong.

“I’m definitely not saying that’s what Warren Gatland did, but I’m the kind of person who’s been doubted all their life. People doubted me in rugby terms over my size and my ability and I’ve loved proving people wrong.

“That’s what gets me up in the morning and what gets me going. Not many people had me in their Wales squads going to Japan and yet here I am. I expected the worst and hoped for the best and thankfully, I didn’t get the text of death.

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“I work really hard on the rugby pitch and I think the coaches have seen that. There’s obviously something in me they like and hopefully that continues.

“If I get another chance to line-up with my brother at a World Cup, then it will be another special day for the family.”

To do that, Davies must win a place in a back row that remains fiercely competitive with his established rival for the No.7 shirt, Justin Tipuric, having seen off plenty of challengers in the past, including, at times, former captain Sam Warburton.

Davies is determined and to underestimate him would be to join a  long queue of those who have dismissed his chances in the past.

“I just have the attitude of what will be, will be,” he says.

“Some people get me wrong and make assumptions about my character, but I am who I am.

“After my fifth injury of last season, this prospect of playing at the World Cup, seemed a long way off.

“I came into camp with a quite a few niggles, so I’m pleased with the way I’ve dug in.

“But now I want to take this adventure as far as I can. It’s all about getting through that pool first and then try to win every game and . . . who knows?”

 

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