LONDON, Sept 13 (Reuters) - With a game plan built more on unshakeable defence and collective spirit than individual flair, Wales have few players beyond second row Alun Wyn Jones and fullback Liam Williams that could lay claim to be the world’s best in their positions.
One pundits’ darling who could make that case is centre Jonathan Davies, voted player of the series by his 2017 Lions team mates after stellar performances in New Zealand against the world champions.
That Davies shone against the All Blacks is testament to why he has become one of coach Warren Gatland’s most indispensable players.
While rival teams often have to pick between power and precision in the midfield, Davies is both the hammer and the scalpel, as likely to fend off a tackler as he is to evade them entirely with an incisive line or a quick pass.
That versatility helps make up for Wales’s slight lack of physical heft and playmaking ability elsewhere in the backline, and explains why Davies has racked up 75 caps for his country despite missing the entire 2015 World Cup through injury.
He is a big-game player, as his track record in the Six Nations, World Cup and two Lions tours shows, and Gatland will be desperately hoping he stays fit to power a midfield partnership with Hadleigh Parkes that has shone recently.
Davies, who plays his club rugby alongside brother and fellow international James at the Scarlets, goes by the nickname “Fox” after the Fox and Hounds pub in Carmarthen run by their parents.
The name is apt for a canny player who is rarely caught out by opposing attacks, allowing Wales to play an attritional game that suits their reliable goal kickers and horde of rampaging back-row scavengers.
After making his international debut in 2009 Davies cemented his place in the Wales team during the 2011 World Cup in which he played every game, and he has remained a fixture ever since when fit.
In an early indicator of his rising status he was controversially chosen to start ahead of one of the game’s all-time greats, Brian O’Driscoll, in the third and deciding test of the 2013 Lions tour to Australia.
It seemed at the time that all of Ireland was outraged by the snub to their hero, but the Lions won convincingly, and picking the Fox has seldom been a controversial choice since. (Reporting by Lawrence White, editing by Ed Osmond)