Dan Biggar intends keeping hold of Wales No. 10 shirt
DAN Biggar knows his hold on the Welsh No. 10 jersey can only be temporary — but he will not be loosening his grip voluntarily.
Few sporting positions are scrutinised as intensely as the Welsh fly-half, owing much to the fact that it has been home to some of rugby's greatest ever players.
Previous inhabitants of the shirt such as Cliff Morgan, Barry John and Phil Bennett have created a dynasty but also a pressure to perform, which can inhibit as well as inspire those who are chosen to play the fabled role.
Biggar is the latest incumbent, and he will win his 12th cap — and first in the Six Nations — when Wales face Ireland tomorrow.
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Despite making his international debut in 2008, the Ospreys fly-half has yet to enjoy a consistent run in the Wales side.
With fly-half Rhys Priestland ruled out for the season with injury and James Hook left on the bench, this is arguably Biggar's clearest opportunity yet to establish himself with Wales, and he understands just how significant an opening this is.
"There's no getting away from what people make of the Welsh No. 10 jersey," he says.
"Every Welsh jersey is special but the 10 jersey has been worn by some great players.
"The important thing is that you're only borrowing it. That jersey will still be there long after I've retired and when Hooky and Rhys have retired, while the greats have already retired.
"It's something which is great, pulling on that jersey. I'm sure the loose-head and tight-head are just as proud wearing one or three."
By his own admission, Biggar has yet to realise his potential on the international stage.
He may still be a young man at 23 but, having already amassed 120 appearances for the Ospreys, there is a sense his 11 Wales caps are not sufficient for a player of his ability.
"My international career has been stop-start so far, but I'm hoping to really get it going this weekend," he says.
"It's unfortunate that Rhys got injured but it's a chance for me to go and express myself in a good side.
"The Six Nations is the best tournament in the world in my opinion, and I'm really looking forward to it. I need to put a marker down for the campaign.
"It's more important that we get off to a winning start. If I have a bad game but we win, I'll be happy."
Although Biggar is modest enough to downplay the significance of his own performance in relation to the importance of a Welsh victory, his grace is only a thin veil for a fierce determination to impress.
As Priestland and Hook have discovered, a couple of iffy displays at fly-half are enough to incur the wrath of a nation.
But Biggar has also sampled stinging criticism, at both regional and international level — it was not long ago that he was booed by his own Ospreys fans and jeered on the rare occasions he played for Wales.
Such experience has hardened the 23-year-old and, having matured considerably over the last 18 months or so, he openly admits he is aware of the scrutiny.
"When it's going well you enjoy the attention but when it's going bad, not so much," he says.
"It's part of the job title. It's a difficult position to be in and there is a lot of pressure.
"I could give the routine answer that you don't pay attention, but you do. And you're aware of the media speculation around the 10 jersey.
"It's a great position to be when things are going well but not so much when it's difficult. You have to enjoy the highs — that's what makes you enjoy the game."
Although Biggar's overall game will be examined intensely this weekend, his goal-kicking will not be.
Those duties will fall to full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who did so during the autumn.
It is a tussle Biggar is well accustomed to, having fought Halfpenny for the right to kick when they were youth players at Gorseinon.
The stakes will be a little higher tomorrow, but Biggar is unperturbed by his lack of kicking responsibility.
"On one hand, it takes the pressure off you and allows you to focus on other parts of your game, but also it's something I'm used to doing and it's a part of my routine," he says.
"Leigh is a great goalkicker and proved it over the last 12 months. There's no issue there. I'm happy to get on with my game and, if I'm called upon, I can step up.
"We go back to the under-13s team at Gorseinon. I think I was doing the kicking back then but he's edged me out now.
"As coaches, it's probably nice to know they've got two fairly accurate kickers. Leigh and I have both worked really hard to get here.
"I've worked hard to develop the other parts of my game. Hopefully I can get some front-foot ball and work with that."
Surprisingly for a player who made his Wales debut more than four years ago, tomorrow's match against Ireland will be Biggar's first Six Nations appearance.
He did not even complete 40 minutes on his last outing at the Millennium Stadium, injury forcing him off against Samoa in November.
Tomorrow's encounter will be an opportunity for Biggar to cement his place in the Welsh side, though he is merely eager to help Wales defend their Six Nations crown.
"It's a big game for me but it's probably a bigger game in the concept of the Welsh rugby team as a whole," he adds.
"It's important we get back to winning ways and it's important we start the campaign well.
"As defending champions, we had a poor autumn, there's no getting away from that. But this is a new campaign and we're looking forward to try retaining the trophy."