Wounded warrior Dan Biggar bows out to usher in next Welsh generation

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As the Argentina players joined their joyous, jumping fans in celebration, a lone Welsh figure sloped away. Across the Stade Velodrome touchline Dan Biggar went, eyes turning red like his shirt as the tears started to come on the fly half’s last, lonely trudge out of international rugby.

Biggar greeted his children with a brave face but this wasn’t how it was supposed to end. By the time of his substitution, five minutes from the finish, Biggar’s body was in bits, Wales’ wounded warrior off with a grimace and knowing that this was, surely, it. He’d barely sat down when his successor-in-waiting, Sam Costelow, threw that final, fateful pass for the Nicolas intercept score that sealed it - the last hope had drained away.

“You know sometimes when you’re absolutely hands-down beaten, you can hold your hands up and let it slide a little bit but we felt like we had control of that game, certainly for large periods of that first half,” the fly half reflected. “We probably could have been a couple more scores ahead.

“But fair play to Argentina, they hung on in there and turned the game into a bit of a brawl really, which probably suited them a bit more than it did us. There were some big moments that didn’t go our way.”

Biggar himself might concede that he never quite possessed the natural talents of the most gifted playmakers of his generation, but few would dispute that he more than made the most of his abilities across 112 Wales caps. There have been few better aerial contesters and few more savvy tactical kickers over the last decade. Defensively, Biggar never gave an inch - his never-say-die spirit came to define a Welsh generation.

And then there was the other stuff: the grit, the gamesmanship, the gumption. Biggar had the gift of the gab and the gob, a generous, insightful talker off the field and a referee’s aural nightmare on it.

He was true to himself to the last. Early on in Marseille on Saturday, Biggar expressed his frustration plainly when Tomas Lavanini made the most of a slight bump off the ball; just seconds later, though, the fly half was bear-trapping an Argentine ankle, ensuring he would play no part in the next phase. While considering a possible sanction for Guido Petti’s challenge on Nick Tompkins, referee Karl Dickson had enough of Biggar’s chirping – “go away, Dan”, the English official snapped.

Dan Biggar’s passion was clear across 112 Wales caps (Getty Images)
Dan Biggar’s passion was clear across 112 Wales caps (Getty Images)

Wales wouldn’t have had him any other way. “Hopefully people will remember me for being passionate and caring about every moment,” Biggar said afterwards. “That’s been my character from day one really.

“I am going to miss it. I didn’t think I would be particularly emotional, I almost thought I would be relieved, but there’s definitely a bit of sadness. I’m definitely going to miss it in the months and years to come. I think it’ll be raw for a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks. But when I reflect back on my career, hopefully I’ll be fairly pleased with what I’ve done.”

Biggar’s exit ushers in a new era at fly half amidst a broader generational shift. After this tournament, neither he nor Gareth Anscombe will be available to Gatland; it will be Costelow’s time at ten. Already some of the old guard are gone – Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb – and others are sure to follow, whether now or down the track: Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny. George North may only be 31 and has enjoyed an outstanding fourth World Cup, but there are plenty of miles in his legs.

Hope springs anew. Gatland’s co-captains at this tournament are 23 and 24, Jac Morgan already a star and Dewi Lake perhaps on his way. Roommates Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza could be back five building blocks for another decade and a half; getting their new Exeter colleague Joe Hawkins back would boost the midfield options.

Wales’ next generation will hope to bounce back from World Cup heartbreak (Getty Images)
Wales’ next generation will hope to bounce back from World Cup heartbreak (Getty Images)

“They’ve been a vital part of the success, or redemption of this team,” Biggar said of the bright young things. “If you’d offered this five months ago, we’d have snapped your hand off.

“This young group have driven standards and pushed us to keep going. I’ve got no doubt they will achieve some really good things if they keep the squad together and allow boys like Sam Costelow some time in that 10 seat and allow him to drive it and make it his team.

“I said that to him at the end: ‘Just enjoy making this team your own now for the next few years’. Hopefully that will come through.” The torch has been passed but Biggar’s competitive flame never stopped burning.