Dafydd James has revealed he was offered a contract to play for Pontypridd in the Welsh Premiership two years ago at the age of 43.
The former Wales and Lions star had just played in a testimonial game for Ponty stalwart Dafydd Lockyer and had been named man-of-the-match, playing for a Lockyer Select XV against the Sardis Road current first team XV.
James – who also figures in the World Rugby Classic from Bermuda to be shown on S4C on Monday night – was forced to retire from full-time professional rugby in 2009 because of a neck injury.
But we was given the all-clear to play again and for the past decade has been renowned as one of the fittest and finest players on the “golden oldies” circuit.
Even so, the offer to play semi-professionally for Ponty for the 2018-19 season – which would have begun after his 43rd birthday and 20 years since he ended his first spell with the club – took the former Scarlets player by surprise.
“I’d played quite well in that game and after the match they offered me a contract to play for them,” says James.
“They were even willing to let me play as and when I wanted, rather than in every game. I was a bit flattered, because of my age, and thought, ‘yeah, I can do this.
“I went home and the next morning I was aching all over, my bones were sore, having played a full game of rugby.
“I thought, I’ll be up against 19 or 20-year-olds and some of them will be looking to take my head off. Someone’s going to get hurt. I thought, ‘do I need that every week?’
“The obvious answer was no, so I turned them down. But it was an interesting offer and it shows that if you stay fit and motivated beyond 35, and the environment is carefully controlled, then rugby is possible for a while after that age.”
During his post-professional career, James has been a regular and much in demand performer with the Classic Lions team in Bermuda – and even played in the tournament as recently as last year.
He says the rugby is generally of a very high standard, most players are there to entertain the crowds, and there are plenty of off-field attractions – both social and cultural – for a group of ex-international rugby players at the tourist destination situated 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
Managed by Wales seventies star Allan Martin, the Classic Lions team have always had a healthy representation from Wales, including in more recent years, the likes of Colin Charvis, Chris Wyatt and Ceri Sweeney.
For James, the tournament’s enduring appeal for players, spectators and sponsors has been the open and expansive rugby – an ethos which needs to be carefully protected, he believes.
“You need to be quite fit to play there, which suits me because I still train every day and have done since I retired. I suppose I’m addicted to training.
🚨 RYGBI YN ÔL AR S4C | RUGBY IS BACK! 🚨
Pwy sy’n barod i weld bach o rygbi? 😏
Who’s ready for some rugby? 😏
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) June 8, 2020
“But you need more than that to make it work. You need the team to play in the right spirit and throw the ball around.
“It’s uncontested scrums, which is the right way to go, but some teams abused that by putting their backs into the scrums and then charging their forwards into people from midfield.
“I just thought, ‘guys, that’s not what this is about.’ You’re there to entertain people, not play a style of rugby that’s going to put people off by just bashing it up into bodies. There’s enough of that in the modern game, without it going into the over-35s.”
James also still plays veterans rugby at the Dubai Sevens, where there are a number of different competitions including his favoured 10-a-side.
And he’s still a regular within Wales at testimonial matches, including last year’s jamboree for former Wales prop Paul James, which featured Lee Byrne, Shane Williams, Allan Bateman, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones, and Rowland Phillips.
“The weather in Bermuda is pretty good, you can go out on a catamaran on the ocean or play golf and there are some nice restaurants.
WORLD RUGBY CLASSICS – BERMUDA 2018
Good luck to our boys out in the Bermuda Classics. Enjoy. #Ole #Lions #Ponty @PontypriddRFC @Ponty3G @welshpremrugby #BermudaClassics @CeriSweeney10 #NathanStrong @dlockyer12 pic.twitter.com/gyTc9vpHof
— Pontypridd RFC (@PontypriddRFC) October 30, 2018
“It’s a wonderful place, but there’s also nothing like playing with other guys in front of Welsh crowds as well.
“I think there’s a market for that kind of rugby because it’s open and attractive and just good fun to play in and watch.
“People go away having seen a high-scoring game, with lots of tries and skills and it’s memorable.
“That’s often not the case in the current professional game, where it might end up 12-3, with players just bashing into each other, re-set scrums, yellow cards for high tackles, and players offside at the breakdown all day.
“Who wants to remember that?”
S4C – Monday 13/07
21.30 – Clasuron Bermuda (Bermuda Classics)