Retirement can be a tricky time for professional athletes. Former rugby union star, Dafydd James, admits he found the transition to everyday life “very difficult”.
The wing/centre made his debut for Wales in 1996, kicking off an international career that would see him win 43 caps for his country and a starting place in all three of the British and Irish Lions’ test teams against Australia in 2001.
James’ dedication to fitness went unquestioned throughout his career that spanned rugby’s amateur and professional eras. We discovered the former flyer has no intention of slowing down and will soon be swapping his boots for a bike as he hooks up with old team-mates for one final UK tour.
1) So Dafydd, what are you up to these days now you’ve hung the rugby boots up?
Rugby and staying in shape are still big parts of my life, but I’ve also taken the disciplines I acquired playing professional rugby and reapplied them to the business world. I’ve used my experience and knowledge to establish Dafydd-James.com through which I offer bespoke programmes to people wishing to improve their lives through diet and nutrition. I also do a lot of fundraising, helping to boost the profile of good causes and hopefully giving something back after a career in a game that gave me so much.
2) How’s 2014 been for you so far?
Great - Colin Charvis and I helped set up the Wales vs France Legends game which was held at Cardiff Arms Park recently. I captained the Wales team on the night and it was a great success; we managed to raise over £25,000 for the Prince’s Trust which supports young people in need across the UK. Money also went to charities such as Tŷ Hafan and Shelter Cymru. It was a great event and hopefully there’ll be more Legends games in the future and we’ll be able to keep fundraising through rugby. Now I’m in preparation for the Cardiff 7s festival at the end of May. I’m very proud to be representing Tenovus Cancer Charity, and I’ll be playing for the Tenovus team in the tournament.
3) Great to hear. Sevens is tough - would you say it’s more demanding than 15s?
Certainly – in my experience sevens is played at a much higher intensity. You’ve got half as many players competing on a standard-sized rugby pitch and that means you’ve really got to maximise your fitness and keep up with the pace of the game or you’ll come undone. Your skills have got to adapt which makes for a much more demanding playing experience.
4) Is there anything that the 15-a-side format can learn from the sevens game?
Yes, without a doubt: Today’s game is all about strength and power - smashing through tackles and breaking down defences. It’s developed a gym-obsessed culture and players have become a bit too focused on lifting the most or sprinting the fastest. In sevens, forwards play more like backs, as all those muscle groups get used in a far more athletic physiological context. It really sharpens your mind and body because you need to perform all the basic skills at a much quicker tempo. I believe that playing sevens really kits you out with the skill-set necessary to play 15-a-side rugby at a higher level.
5) Going back to your rugby career; what would you say was your proudest moment?
Without a doubt putting on the red jersey and winning my first cap for Wales was one of my proudest moments. I was also the first man to score 29 tries in the Heineken Cup - that was a big achievement for me.
6) You played in both amateur and professional eras in rugby. What were the biggest differences for players between the two periods?
There were huge differences: Back in the old days you could train twice a week and that would be it before match day. There’s so much more to rugby preparation today and science and technology has transformed our whole approach. From exercise drills on the pitch to what you’re eating on a day-to-day basis to sports psychology, professionalism has opened our eyes to the importance of the minute aspects of physical and mental preparation.
7) Who were the most inspirational figures to you throughout your career?
Obviously my family and friends were a huge support to me and helped me all the way through. Early on in my international career I remember sitting next to Jonathan (Jiffy) Davies in the changing room after a Wales game. He had just returned from rugby league and had always been a hero of mine, so that was a big moment. Neil Jenkins was also a big inspiration and a great mentor. He helped me with my passing game and my speed up at Pontypridd which helped me develop as a player. Other than that, I’ve always looked up to any sports people who conduct themselves professionally are who are role model to others.
8) Right, let’s put you on the spot - the 2015 Rugby World Cup: Can Wales beat England at Twickenham?
It’s a huge ask - obviously it’s home advantage for England and they’ll want to perform during their showcase World Cup, so beating them will take some doing. On latest 6 Nations form, in all honesty I don’t think you’d find too much optimism for Wales’ chances. It seems our tactics of late have relied heavily on kicking the ball long and hoping our fitness levels wear down the opposition. But everyone’s so tuned up these days, it’s an approach that can’t unlock world class defences anymore. I think teams have worked out Wales’ strengths in that respect and for want of plan “b”, we’ve come unstuck. Having said that, it’s a long way off and everyone knows Wales are capable of great things, so you never know.
9) How’s the future looking for you? Do you have a busy schedule for the rest of 2014?
Yes there’s lots coming up for me in the near future. I’ll be doing events to support Walking with the Wounded, a charity which raises funds to help re-skill and retrain wounded servicemen and women. I’m also participating in Cycle for Lions 2014: A bunch of former British and Irish Lions will be cycling around the UK’s four nations covering a total of over 925 km whilst hopefully raising more money for good causes. On an everyday level I’m always trying to support mini-rugby in schools and getting the kids involved in fitness and sports. Generally speaking, I’ve got a lot of professional experience and I feel I’ve got much more to contribute.