Feature Interview | Aled Davies
There were no regrets from Aled Davies as he watched his new Saracens teammates go off to play international rugby this month and then sat in front of his TV to watch his native Wales face the world’s finest.
The hairs may have risen on the back of his neck as he listened to ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' being belted out at Principality Stadium before the games against the All Blacks, Springboks, Fijians and Wallabies, but the former Welsh scrum half prefers to look forward, rather than back.
With 20 caps under his belt he knew what would happen when he left Ospreys and signed for Saracens. Under the controversial 60-cap rule in his homeland, if you haven’t played that many times for your country, and you move abroad to play, you aren’t eligible for selection.
He obviously knew what he was doing, and what he wanted, when he signed on because his first season at Saracens he found himself playing in the Championship. Far from viewing that as a step down, he saw it as a way to immerse himself in the club’s culture.
With the title won, and a return to the top-flight secured, he has established himself as one of the top scrum halves at the club with some outstanding performances.
“It took ages to start up in the Championship because of COVID and we went through the longest ever pre-season. We set high standards all the way through and tried to make it just as if we were playing in the Premiership,” explained Davies.
“We went to some interesting and challenging places, and some of the refereeing wasn’t so good, but it was still a good experience. I’d been to much worse places when years ago I was playing for Llanelli in the Welsh Premiership.
“Cross Keys and Ebbw Vale were always difficult and the Sardis Road pitch at Pontypridd was always a bog until they got an all-weather surface. What those games in the Championship did for the club was galvanise the players.
“When I first signed I knew we would be playing in the Championship, but that was part of the attraction to me. I wanted to be a part of the re-vamp of the club and it made me feel as though I earned some skin in the game.”
With a Championship winners’ medal in his trophy cabinet, Davies is now setting his sights on loftier targets. Having helped the Scarlets win the Guinness PRO12 in 2017 he wants more honours with his new club.
Nine games into his top flight career at Saracens he has made a great start this season and helped his side move into second place behind resurgent Leicester Tigers. They are 10 points clear at the moment, but both Sarries and reigning champions Harlequins, in third, have a game in hand.
“Aled has settled into the club really well and was a key figure for us in the Championship. He has carried on that form in the Gallagher Premiership and built a really promising relationship with Owen Farrell,” said Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall.
“We just hope he can continue to go from strength to strength for us. He is being pushed really hard by Ivan van Zyl for his starting spot, and we also have Ruben de Haas as a scrum-half in our squad, so the competition between the three is very good.”
As for Davies, who has enjoyed trading the familiar surroundings of Llanelli for St Alban’s, he just wants to keep pushing himself.
“I always wanted to challenge myself and play outside of Wales before I hung up my boots. As soon as I knew the coaches and senior players were going to stick with the club after their relegation I wanted to be a part of what is a massive team,” added Davies.
“The crowds at Premiership matches are unbelievable and no game is easy. It is a real test of your ability week in, week out and that brings out the best in every player.
“I wanted to be tested every week and to fight for my place and to get better. It’s not bad when you play between a No 8 like Billy Vunipola and an outside half like Owen Farrell!
“It was made so easy for me to fit in at the club and I love the fact that every training sessions is so intense and focussed. I’ve come into a great environment and I’m loving it.
“I think I’ve grown as a player and as a person and I feel more confident in myself and out on the field. The coaches have backed me and that’s all you can ever ask for as a player.
“The goal of us all is to win trophies, we want to win the league, but we have to stay in the moment and concentrate on what is in front of us, not what might be ahead of us.”