It says a lot about Welsh rugby that Aled Davies, a 20-cap Wales scrum-half, feels “more settled and stable” at Saracens, even though he joined the English club amid the tumult of their forced relegation for breaches of the salary cap and it has cost him the chance to play for his country.
“It is a team of internationals here,” Davies tells i, “and at every training session you have got to be switched on and engaged, and bring the intensity. I am happy within myself. I have no regrets whatsoever.”
Wales’s Professional Rugby Board this week indicated they are not planning to cut one of the four regions, amid huge angst over the teams’ poor performances in the URC and Europe.
But the kerfuffle over a proposed merger of the Ospreys and Scarlets during Wales’s Six Nations Grand Slam in 2019, in which Davies played four of the five matches, was fresh in his mind when he quit the Ospreys for Saracens the following year.
“It came when we were preparing for the Scotland game and going for a Grand Slam – so that was the last thing the Welsh team needed,” the 29-year-old recalls.
“I feel more settled and stable here, at Saracens, you know where you’re coming and going with the league. The players haven’t been able to do the old bonding trips but a few beers after games and little things on days off have settled me in seamlessly. There are no egos, we have fun off the field – and when we step on the field, it’s all business.”
Davies’s first full Saracens season was in the Championship – although he says airily that playing for Llanelli at the likes of Cross Keys and Ebbw Vale was adequate preparation – and he was followed into Saracens by South Africa’s Ivan van Zyl and USA’s Ruben de Haas in a complete turnover of scrum-halves, after Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Spencer and Tom Whiteley left for Leicester, Bath and Bristol respectively.
“Aled was the first scrum-half we had spotted who had all the capabilities we wanted,” says Mark McCall, the director of rugby. “It was a very brave move by him, effectively saying goodbye to international rugby.
“His passing and speed between breakdowns is as good as I have seen. He is an incredibly tough competitor, so defensively, he really adds too. He kicks the ball beautifully as well, and we are lucky to have him.”
This season, back in the Premiership, Saracens have soared to second place. In a win over leaders Leicester, a clash of heads between Davies and George Ford left the latter with a lump on his head. “He got up, didn’t he, so fair play to him,” says Davies.
But, as McCall mentions, there is a big price to pay in Davies’s voluntary exile. The 29-year-old from Bronwydd, near Carmarthen, had reached 20 caps for Wales by the end of the 2019 World Cup – but you need 60 to keep being selected from outside the country.
Now living in Harpenden, Davies admits it has been “tough” to watch Wales play, and struggle in the recent Six Nations, not least because some of the team are good pals. Indeed, Liam Williams, a former Saracen, was crucial in recommending his switch.
As Davies is contracted to Saracens for next season too, has he given up on the 2023 World Cup? “As a Welshman, I want to be playing for my country,” Davies says. “With the 60-cap rule, it seems like it’s off. I have heard nothing about the rule changing. Until that changes, it is what it is. I am focused only on Saracens and trying to win trophies.”
Aled Davies attempts to tackle Owen Farrell back in 2019 (Photo: Getty)
The Saracens captain and fly-half Owen Farrell was a sworn enemy in England-Wales matches three times, and once in Europe – now he and Davies are figuratively joined at the hip. “I think we’ve played well together,” says Davies. “He’s just a good bloke, full of knowledge, and with the standards he sets every day, an unbelievable competitor. He keeps all the boys on their toes. But we have …