Dan Biggar: The Wales No.10 Who Played Like A Fan

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 14: Dan Biggar of Wales waves to the fans after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Quarter Final match between Wales and Argentina at Stade Velodrome on October 14, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Dan Biggar: The Wales No.10 Who Played Like A Fan

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By Daniel Parker

March 27th, 2010. It was a clear, bright South Wales afternoon and the most galactic of ‘Galacticos’ Ospreys sides had arrived in Newport to take on the Dragons.

The starting XV reads like a fantasy draft: a Jerry Collins-Marty Holah-Ryan Jones back-row; Jonathan Thomas and Ian Evans in the second-row boiler room; a Welsh international front-row of Paul James, Huw Bennett and Adam Jones; and behind the scrum, the likes of Mike Phillips, Tommy Bowe, James Hook and Lee Byrne.

Filo Tiatia, Richard Hibbard, Ian Gough and Sonny Parker warmed the away bench.

The Ospreys’ starting stand-off that day was a 20-year-old Dan Biggar, one of the breakout stars of the 2008 IRB Junior World Championship.

The Gorseinon product already had three senior Wales caps to his name, and even as a relative spring chicken in pro rugby, carried himself with the unmistakable confidence of a player with his eyes on the big time.

The Ospreys were hot favourites at Rodney Parade that day, but Paul Turner’s Dragons team were very definitely up for it, roared on by a crowd that was chomping at the bit for an upset.

The atmosphere was crackling; akin to what visiting gladiators must have experienced at Caerleon Amphitheatre in its heyday.

In that turbo-charged, hostile cauldron, things started to go wrong for the visitors.

A relatively inexperienced Dragons pack – spearheaded by little-known Cross Keys RFC graduate Taulupe Faletau in one of his first professional appearances – was somehow winning the physical battle.

British and Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips lost his cool and hurled unparliamentary language at a baying Hazell Terrace.

And the much-vaunted young Biggar was having what could reasonably be described as a nightmare: he was frequently forced backwards in the tackle, his kicking from hand was increasingly haphazard, and his opposite number – unfashionable Risca product Jason Tovey – was having the game of his life.

Biggar began to cut a despondent figure as the home crowd revelled in his misfiring performance.

He was given the shepherd’s crook at the start of the crucial final quarter, trudging off towards the archaic Rodney Parade dugout to celebratory chants of ‘Tovey, Tovey’ from the home supporters.

Those present in Newport that day could have been forgiven for thinking that the early-career hype surrounding Biggar was little more than another false dawn; a by-product of the Welsh media’s perennial desire to catch a first glimpse of the next superstar number 10.

But they would have been wrong.

While Tovey went on to have a respectable career at club level, he never made a Wales squad.

By contrast, his opposite number would go on to become the top points scorer in the Celtic League/PRO12 in each of the next two seasons.

And the disconsolate, sorrowful expression Biggar wore as he left the Rodney Parade turf that day would rarely if ever be seen again.

Over the years that followed, the halcyon days of ‘Ospreylia’ began to fade away, with many of the household names that had defined the region’s glamourous appeal either retiring or departing for foreign climbs.

Biggar would remain a constant, though. The confident swagger of the age-grade international was still there, but there was an emerging grit and steeliness to his on-field performances: reliable from the kicking tee, composed with ball in hand, and utterly furious in defence.

Further set-backs would come. Biggar missed out on selection for the 2011 World Cup, and was a notable omission from Warren Gatland’s 2013 Lions squad – despite having played a central role in the Wales side that won that year’s Six Nations under caretaker head coach Rob Howley.

Indeed, of the starting XV that hammered England 30-3 in Cardiff, Biggar (who put in a masterful display that day) was the only player not to fly out to Australia that summer.

Yet the former Gowerton Comprehensive pupil took it firmly on the chin, and seemed spurred on by rejection and under-appreciation.

The 2015 World Cup fixture against England was a case in point, with Biggar putting in one of the great individual performances in a red shirt.

In the midst of huge pressure at Twickenham, the Welshman was a supreme calming force; goalkicking with pinpoint accuracy and stepping into a leadership role to steady the ship as an unending stream of teammates dropped to the floor with injury.

Sam Warburton may have worn the captain’s armband on the day, but Biggar was unquestionably Wales’ galvanising figurehead.

Even before that famous World Cup win, the Welsh public had fallen in love with the man. Now boasting a signature pre-kick rhythmic dance/jitter routine, Biggar had come close to supplanting Leigh Halfpenny as the favourite of the Welsh mother/grandmother demographic (a cohort far more astute and discerning than they are ever given credit for).

The fly-half’s completely fearless and wholehearted approach to the game – throwing himself into the tackle with scant regard for his own well being – seemed to exemplify someone who really, really cared about playing for Wales.

Richard Burton once suggested that he would have traded in his esteemed acting career on stage and screen for a solitary Welsh cap.

It’s reasonable for the Welsh public to expect any player who dons the red jersey to meet the same threshold when it comes to desire and passion for the cause.
Few players could be said to have passed the ‘Burton Test’ with more resounding aplomb than Biggar, who always exuded the distinct energy of a Wales fan playing for Wales.

It’s no wonder that he leaves the international stage with the overwhelming warmth and respect of the Welsh public who saw a small glimpse of ourselves – shouting from the stands or in front of the telly – in his committed performances.

Biggar has enjoyed a stellar career, with Six Nations titles, Grand Slams, and two Lions tours to his name.

His success with the Ospreys earned him a move from West Glamorgan to Northampton, where he became a fan favourite, guiding the Saints to the 2019 Premiership Rugby Cup in his maiden season.

He would go on to bag 616 points over 70 appearances in the Midlands before departing for the French Riviera in 2022, following in the footsteps of Andrew Mehrtens, Quade Cooper, Jonny Wilkinson and Felipe Contemponi by donning the number 10 shirt at Provençal giants Toulon.

The former Swansea RFC man was an instant hit on the shores of the Mediterranean, too, helped in no small part by his swift command of the French language (demonstrated superbly in his speech at Wales’ World Cup welcome reception in Versailles in September).

Having announced his retirement from international duty ahead of this year’s World Cup, Biggar was keen to sign off on a high.

He was superb in the frenetic opening encounter against Fiji (the Pacific Islanders only gained a foothold in the game after he was substituted) and started brightly against Australia before sustaining a pectoral injury which ruled him out of action until last weekend’s quarter final against Argentina.

Even in defeat, Biggar produced an all-action, try-scoring performance – often seeming to fight through pain to stay on the field – and deserved far better than to finish on the losing side.

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He cut an emotional figure after the final whistle, with the reality of it having been his last outing in a Wales jersey visibly sinking in.
For many watching, that realisation will take much longer to settle.

It hasn’t always been plain-sailing for him, and he isn’t a perfect player.

He’s been criticised (often very unfairly) for an attacking style which has been deemed less expansive than some of his predecessors in the famed Welsh 10 shirt.
And, with perhaps slightly more justification, Biggar has been criticised for his on-field outbursts at teammates over the last 12 months.

Rio Dyer faced his ire during Wales’ visit to Murrayfield earlier this year, and it was George North’s turn in the World Cup clash with Fiji; the centre memorably scolded for failing to ‘put the effin ball out’ before half-time.

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No-one would suggest that these verbal barrages come from a place of spite, though – they are just another manifestation of how much this most passionate of Welshmen cares about Wales winning.

Over the years some commentators attempted to scapegoat Biggar when Wales misfired, and concocted fairly regular debates about whether it was time for him to cede the fly-half berth to a slightly younger contender: the likes of Gareth Anscombe, Sam Davies, Jarrod Evans and Callum Sheedy have all been put forward at various junctures.

In truth, though, there has only ever been one permanently reliable figure when the chips are down.

A big game player who thrives on pressure, Biggar has been Wales’ talisman of the last decade: a leader on the field and a voice of reason off it.

When the Welsh number 10 production line is discussed, Biggar’s name is not mentioned enough: there is no doubt that he is loved, but for some reason there has been a hesitation to include him among the pantheon of stand-off greats.

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That will surely change now.

When the largely unbroken chain of Welsh fly-half icons of the last half-century is read out (David Watkins, Barry John, Phil Bennett, Gareth Davies, Jonathan Davies, Neil Jenkins, Stephen Jones and James Hook) Biggar should always be included.

The real question now is who will follow him.

With Biggar calling time on his international career, and Anscombe set to see out his career in Japan, the window of opportunity has opened for Wales’ next first choice outside-half. Sam Costelow and Owen Williams will probably battle for pole position heading into the 2024 Six Nations, with the likes of Ioan Lloyd and Will Reed among the names to look out for in the near-future.

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Whoever assumes the mantle has enormous shoes to fill.

As Joni Mitchell once sang, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

All the very best for the future, Dan, and thanks for all the memories.

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