Gareth Davies relishing healthy competition for Wales scrum-half spot

Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
·3-min read

Gareth Davies readily acknowledges that the battle for Wales’ number nine shirt is an intense one.

Scarlets scrum-half Davies has won the vote for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy in Rome, where victory would tighten Wales’ title grip and leave them one win away from a Grand Slam.

He takes over from Scarlets colleague Kieran Hardy, who marked his first Six Nations start with a try-scoring display when Wales clinched the Triple Crown by beating England last month.

Kieran Hardy File Photo
Kieran Hardy in action for Wales (David Davies/PA)

Hardy, though, then suffered a hamstring injury, while Davies’ fellow 2019 World Cup scrum-half Tomos Williams is continuing his recovery from a hamstring problem that has sidelined him since this season’s opening Six Nations weekend.

With Cardiff Blues’ Lloyd Williams also in the scrum-half mix – and 2017 British and Irish Lion Rhys Webb not even part of Wayne Pivac’s current Wales squad – competition shows no sign of slowing up.

“Kieran was outstanding last week against England and was unfortunate to pick up that little hamstring injury,” Davies said, ahead of winning a 61st cap.

“I feel like there is a bit of pressure on me to perform as well as he did.

“It’s about doing the basics right, managing the game well, playing in the right areas and bringing as much tempo as possible.

“Throughout my whole career, there has always been a lot of competition for the scrum-half jersey, so I am used to it.

“I have always said that’s healthy as a player. It is only a good thing for the squad to have so much competition. It keeps us all on our toes.”

Davies will oppose Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney on Saturday – and they hail from neighbouring counties, with Carmarthenshire-born Davies lining up against a son of Pembrokeshire.

England v Italy – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney (David Davies/PA)

Gloucester prospect Varney, though, qualified for Italy through his mother and is in the early stages of a Test career with the Azzurri.

“It’s a small world, isn’t it?” Davies added.

“He is a Pembrokeshire boy and out there playing international rugby in Italy. It’s quite strange, but it is good for him.

“He has come through really well and he is a good player. I’ve watched him play a few times for Gloucester and played against him a little bit in the autumn internationals as well.

“We know what his strengths are, so we will have to keep an eye on him. I am looking forward to the competition.”

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

Wales are firm favourites to topple Varney and company on Saturday, chasing a 16th successive victory over Italy, while their hosts have not won a Six Nations game since 2015.

An anticipated Wales triumph would then set up a full-scale title and Grand Slam tilt against France in Paris next week.

“The team Wayne has picked for this week shows them (Italy) a lot of respect,” Davies said.

“It won’t be an easy challenge. I am sure it will be a tough game for us, but hopefully one we can come out on top of.”