Seven years ago this summer, Wales had the player voted the best youngster in the world in 2013. Sam Davies almost made it a double triumph at the world’s summit that year – but it wasn’t quite to be, as he tells Graham Thomas.
Sam Davies admits he cried tears of frustration when the chance to crown Wales as world champions slipped through his fingers.
The Wales and Dragons star – who broke back into the national squad earlier this year – welled up when he stepped forward to receive the 2013 Junior World Player of the Year award.
But it was not the emotion of his achievement that made him tearful, but the disappointment of losing the Junior World Championship Final, when Wales U20 were beaten 23-15 by England U20 – a classic match that is being re-shown by S4C on Monday night.
“When I picked up the award, I felt very emotional – but it was not because I’d won it, it was because I still so disappointed about losing that match,” says Davies, who moved from the Ospreys to the Dragons last season.
“I still couldn’t believe we had lost that game against England. We were 15-3 up at half-time and in control, but we let it slip and they came back at us. It was a really tough one to take – and still is now.
“The award I picked up was fantastic, it’ll always be a special memory and something I can take with me to the grave. But I was absolutely gutted at the time. I just couldn’t believe we’d lost and it really hurt.”
Wales had reached the final in free-slowing style, with Davies as the creative hub of a side that liked to play a fast-tempo, high-skilled game with width and variety.
Typically, England were far more structured and relied on a powerful pack, although their back line had talent that would later shine in the red rose senior side through Anthony Watson, plus Exeter pair Henry Slade and Jack Nowell.
In the back row that day for England was Ross Moriarty, who had come through the ranks over the border at Gloucester, but who would later pick up his family allegiance to Wales.
The skills of Davies – who combined smoothly with his current Dragons half-back partner Rhodri Williams – enabled Wales to stretch out a healthy interval lead after two tries.
The first was set up beautifully by Davies, with a cross-field kick that measured and timed to absolute perfection.
It was Welsh team that included future senior internationals Hallam Amos, Nicky Thomas and Ellis Jenkins as well Davies and was coached by Danny Wilson, who would go on to become head coach at Cardiff Blues.
Davies – who father Nigel played for Llanelli and Wales before becoming a highly successful coach – recalls: “We felt good at half-time, but in fairness to England they were really strong and they kept coming back at us.
“In the end, we were just out on our feet and they were physical, with a very strong bench and we fell off the gas and didn’t manage to finish the job off.
“But rugby is about all types of memories – good and bad – and I have some very fond memories of that time and that day.
“It’s strange how things work out as I’m now back playing alongside Rhodri at half-back for the Dragons. We still have a great understanding and we’ve picked up what we had at the Under 20s.”
Seven years on and that final remains as close as Wales have come to becoming world champions in age-group rugby.
It was the first time the final had been contested by two countries from the northern hemisphere, but England eventually claimed the title – just as they had done earlier in the season when they ended Wales’ Grand Slam dream at Colwyn Bay to take the Six Nations crown.
“It’s incredible to think that was seven years ago – time has flown,” adds Davies, who will combine his playing duties at the Dragons next season, with a coaching role at Dunvant.
“I think all of us from that team have great memories of that tournament and how close we got to becoming world champions.
“Looking back that was a pretty decent team, which has been proved by the number of boys who gone on to success with various sides. We were very close, but these are the lessons you learn from.”
S4C – Monday 10.00pm
Dyddiau Da: Rygbi Dan 20 – Cymru v Lloegr 2013
Highlights from the Wales Under 20 final against England from the Rugby Under 20 World championship in 2013.