Dan Biggar was among the VIP guests at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, to watch Manchester United in the Champions League, but he will soon be back in business for Northampton – and moving on from the Lions series.
The 31-year-old Wales fly-half is primed for a return to Premiership action in the Saints’ home clash with London Irish on Saturday – eight weeks after his last appearance ended in agony, in more ways than one.
Biggar limped off early in the Cape Town Stadium and watched on helplessly as the Lions lost the final Test by the narrowest of margins, to succumb to a 2-1 series defeat against the world champion Springboks.
Dan Biggar limped off injured in the third Test as the Lions lost the series to South Africa
The Wales fly-half has been sidelined for eight weeks after suffering a shin injury
A post-tour reunion with his family in Jersey followed by a 10-day holiday in Greece helped Biggar come to terms with the disappointment. He is determined not to be swamped by regrets about what might have been. He has learned to ‘park’ the angst.
‘From a purely selfish point of view, it was a huge aim of mine to become a Test Lion this summer, so I’m really pleased about that,’ he said. ‘To have become a series-winning Lion would have been really special so to miss out on that hurts.
‘But if I keep looking back on that it’s going to drag and drag through the season and I want to get back to focusing on playing well for Northampton and setting new goals.
‘I want to be successful with Northampton and I’m eight caps away from 100 with Wales, so that is a massive goal.’
Biggar kicked four penalties and one conversion as the Lions won the first Test 22-17
The Welshman was forced off the field in the first Test after suffering a head injury
The fall-out from the tour has rumbled on. There has been considerable criticism of Warren Gatland and the Lions management, for the limited game-plan they employed in the Test series.
Accusations that they played into the hands of the Boks have come from those who were within the camp, as well as countless others outside.
Finn Russell – who came on for Biggar in the series finale – and Iain Henderson have both publicly cast doubt on the Lions’ conservative strategy.
While Biggar has come to terms with the outcome of the series, he rejects the use of hindsight to suggest that the tourists’ methods were flawed.
‘We all bought into it at the time,’ he said.
Morne Steyn scored a late penalty to clinch the series for the Boks as he had done in 2009
South Africa celebrate after they are handed the trophy for the Test series in Cape Town
The Lions saw a Test series win in South Africa snatched from their grasp in Cape Town
The Lions last won in South Africa in 1997, defeating the Springboks 2-1 in a pulsating series
‘If they had such a strong opinion about it, maybe they could have voiced it at the time. I’ve never made a mistake watching a game back on a sofa. Hindsight is brilliant; you never make a mistake in life.
‘I think the general consensus of the group was frustration and disappointment. That probably caused some lads to say that.
‘But you’re always wise after the event, aren’t you? People are going to do interviews and give their opinions and they are entitled to them, but for me there was just frustration in the group that we couldn’t finish the job after going 1-0 up.’
Since the British and Irish squad came home, South Africa have slumped to three consecutive defeats in the Rugby Championship, which has heightened the sense that the Lions should have beaten Jacques Nienaber’s side.
However, Biggar believes that some of the tactical criticism has been unjustified.
Although the Lions were beaten by South Africa the hierarchy still have faith in Warren Gatland
The Lions hierarchy want Gatland to remain in charge for the tour of Australia in 2025
‘What hurts with the Lions is that we didn’t play much different from the first Test to the second, but the result changes the reaction completely.. I was watching the New Zealand-South Africa game last weekend and people were saying what a brilliant game it was, but I didn’t think it was.
‘It had intensity and drama, but if you actually looked at the skill level and the style of play, certainly from South Africa, it was very similar (to the Lions series).
‘But all of a sudden, because New Zealand were playing, it turned into a brilliant game of rugby, which I didn’t think it was.’ Events in Cape Town led to a wider debate about the appeal of the sport.
The series was a turgid spectacle, reflecting the high-stakes, win-at-all-costs nature of international rugby.
Biggar accepts the counter-arguments, but insists that a pragmatic pursuit of the bottom line – typified by the hard-nosed, often cynical Boks – must trump any desire to lay on a show.
‘Put it this way, I’d swap places with some of that South African team after the last couple of years they’ve had,’ he said. ‘I know people pay for tickets, they pay for their subscriptions and they have a view – rightly so.
The Springboks lost the final Rugby Championship Test on Saturday against New Zealand
South Africa finished third in the Rugby Championship with two wins and three losses
But it’s our job. We want to be successful rugby players. If someone said to me you could play the most boring brand of rugby and pick up a World Cup-winner’s medal, I’d take that!
‘I get that we’re in the entertainment business but ultimately, if we don’t perform well and win, we won’t be offered contracts.
‘Head coaches or directors of rugby will get the sack if they don’t win.’ The next objective for Biggar is to aid Northampton’s quest to re-emerge as a force. He knows that the time has come for that watershed.
‘It’s been two or three years of transition since Chris (Boyd) has come in and there’s only so long you can call the team young and inexperienced,’ he said.
‘We’ve got to start looking at competing with the big boys. We want to push for the top four and for the title.
‘We’ve had a decent start and we have to keep that going, but the league is so difficult.’ Next month, he won’t be available for Wales’ out-of-window encounter with the All Blacks, but he is driven to keep pushing towards a century of Test caps.
Gareth Anscombe’s return from a two-year hiatus caused by a knee injury will add to the competition for Biggar’s place, but he will continue to see the funny side of the perennial Welsh No 10 debate.
‘I find it amusing that there are always about 10 guys in Wales who are seen as better than the incumbent in that shirt,’ he said.
‘We have a bit of a running joke in camp. The boys always say that (coaches) Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones are probably still ahead of me in the list and they’re not even current players!’
Northampton Saints have agreed a six-year partnership with Cinch – the UK’s fastest-growing online car marketplace – which sees their home renamed as ‘cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens’.