Friday 23 August 2019

Dan Biggar fit and firing again for Ireland clash with a little help from Meghan Markle

Wales' Dan Biggar
Wales' Dan Biggar

James Corrigan

Wales have Meghan Markle to thank for Dan Biggar’s quicker-than-expected return to fitness to play in Saturday’s NatWest Six Nations match in Dublin.

The outside-half injured a shoulder with the Ospreys last month after a ferocious hit in a ruck from Clermont’s Fritz Lee and the initial diagnosis “definitely” ruled him out for “at least” the first three rounds of the championship. But thanks to exhaustive and highly tedious bouts of rehab, the 28-year-old defied the medics to recover in three weeks to take a full part in training and convince Warren Gatland he was ready for the “must win” collision against Ireland.

And but for the assistance of Prince Harry’s fiancée – and the rest of the cast in the US drama series Suits – Biggar is not sure he would have made it.

“In the early stages, I did 10 days on the bounce in an oxygen chamber,” he said. “You sit there for hours and hours, with a mask on and it is monotonous day-in, day-out. I finished off the box set of Suits on my iPad. That got me through it.”

There were other motivating factors: not least Rhys Patchell’s near-faultless first international start in the No 10 jersey.

“It’s frustrating on the sidelines and I’m a terrible spectator, but Rhys played very well against Scotland and deserved all the praise he got,” Biggar said. “That drives you on a bit more to make sure you do everything to get back.”

And then there was a message from Johnny Sexton. Biggar became close to the Irish fly-half on the Lions tour to New Zealand and sent his friend a text after seeing that winning drop-goal against France on the opening weekend.

“I congratulated him as it was some kick,” Biggar said. “You’ll see maybe one or two of those in your whole career. Johnny said he appreciated it and told me he hoped I’d be back for Dublin. So that became a big aim of mine.”

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Gatland has referred to Sexton and scrum-half Conor Murray as “one of the best nine and 10 combinations in the world” and their threat was undoubtedly one of the reasons why he chose to rush back Biggar. The Kiwi felt Wales came a long way second in the aerial battle in the 12-6 defeat against England.

Yet, while Biggar is a renowned kick-and-chase exponent and a master under the high ball, his combative nature also seduced Gatland. Biggar has only lost once in five appearances against Ireland and knows what is expected as Wales target the duo. “In every game you play you want to make the nine’s and 10’s life as difficult as possible,” Biggar said. “But there’s even more emphasis on that on Saturday because those two really are the hub of that team.”

Confidence is not an issue for Biggar despite his lay-off. “That’s been a big difference in this campaign – we’ve a really confident team,” he said. “I know things didn’t work out for us at Twickenham, but the belief we had there was evident. It’s now up to us to do a job and keep us in this tournament.”

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