Wales rugby star Jonathan Davies has recently agreed to join French Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne, continuing a recent trend of Welsh players joining overseas clubs from Welsh regions.
The Scarlets captain will join the club at the end of the season, and follows players such as Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts and James Hook to France to ply his trade.
Davies’s decision will move him to a higher standard of domestic rugby in a league that boasts many of the world’s top players. Davies has taken the option to move to elevate his career in a more competitive league, where back involvement is maximised and open rugby is encouraged.
While Davies will be offered higher reward in terms of lucrative contracts and bonuses that Top 14 clubs can offer, the move also shows the desire of a player who wants to consistently test himself at the highest level. Playing in a league with better quality opposition will mean Davies will have to keep improving to succeed in a team that reached last season’s Heineken Cup final.
While Davies will move from the Welsh game, the higher standards at which many of their internationals now play will mean the quality of the national team also improves. Davies’s former Scarlets teammate George North moved to Aviva Premiership club Northampton Saints last summer and has already put in several impressive displays. They will provide a wealth of increased knowledge and experience for others to learn from.
Davies’s move may be followed by some of his compatriots, with the likes of national captain Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Adam Jones free to leave their regions at the end of the season. Departures of players such as these and the possible continuance of the trend will mean the Welsh regions must develop more of their own players to fill the gaps left in their first teams, or provide further funding to keep top players playing in Wales.
The Welsh Rugby Union may need to offer more to keep their players on home turf and be able to provide better contracts of their own. The current alternative for Welsh stars such as Davies is to move to other leagues to further their careers.
While Wales’s very best move on, their decisions create huge chances for younger players to step into their roles and develop their own game at both domestic and European level. The creation for opportunity will only benefit the Welsh regions and create more competition for places, which will be crucial in sustaining the recent success of the national team. Further competition for places will be essential in the coming years for Wales, to provide high quality cover for injuries to key players.
The Welsh Rugby Union is implementing plans to continue the conveyor belt of talent in Wales, recently employing former England back Josh Lewsey as their new Head of Rugby. Lewsey’s responsibilities will be to maintain and improve the sport at all levels of the game to continue producing quality players for next generations, something Wales are currently one of the world’s leading nations for.
The series of moves are an indicator of the volume of talent within Wales currently and show how the standards of the Welsh national game have improved within the last decade. Wales’s success on the pitch, with their Six Nations victories and performance in the 2011 World Cup, has provided great exposure for the game, inspiring thousands of youngsters to emulate their current national heroes, starting at grassroots level.
It is encouraging for the future of Welsh rugby that Lewsey will oversee the game right down to the lower levels, and with emphasis on the development of talent from early ages and increasing funding the future is looking bright.
Davies himself is a product of the much improved Welsh academy, having represented Wales at Under 20 level. Wales’s sevens team also won the World Cup in 2009, and their recent successes are providing players with experience of winning competitions, which stands them in good stead for when they make the step up to the full international game.
Davies’s decision to move to new pastures will raise his game and profile, and create more opportunities for players looking to fill his boots.
What will Jonathan Davies need to do to be a success in France? Who will step in to his position next season for the Scarlets?