Someone once reckoned the best evidence that time travel is impossible is that we haven’t been invaded by tourists from the future.
But, still, let’s imagine it were possible to set the DeLorean to 2010 and head for Carmarthen Quins on match day.
Instantly, the assumption is, anyone making such a journey would recognise the Quins No. 7 doing his stuff on the pitch.
But if our intrepid traveller wandered into the dressing room the chances are he would be more than a bit perplexed.
For James Davies appeared cut from a different cloth a decade or so ago. Whisper it, but one of Welsh rugby’s most colourful characters was seen as being quiet. Diffident, even.
He had yet to morph into the exuberant character he is today, with a persona bright enough to shine through at the Olympics in 2016, when he competed for Britain in the rugby sevens, later recalling, tongue in cheek: “You go for food and stuff and you are sat next to Michael Phelps, and Usain Bolt is walking in — us three got asked for photos a lot in the village.”
A world away from his early days at Carmarthen Quins.
“He was really shy,” recalled the club’s rugby manager Steff Thomas.
“The first time he came over to us he brought his dad with him and the second time, when we were discussing a match fee, he brought his brother Jonathan across.
“James was just very quiet — a head-down, looking-at-the-floor sort of boy — an introvert, almost.
“It’s amazing to see how he’s grown as a person.”
BIG BROTHER AND ALL THAT
Much water, indeed, has passed under the Loughor Bridge since.
Last summer the siblings, who are currently both recovering from injuries, created history when they took the field for Wales against England in Cardiff.
Never before had two brothers played together for Wales while featuring at club or regional level for either Llanelli or the Scarlets. Understandably, it meant a huge amount to them and their parents.
Jonathan, of course, had long since scaled the heights, boasting a CV with a ‘man of the series, Lions v New Zealand, 2017’ entry.
But it’s to his immense credit he has always looked out for his younger brother, always wanted to him to succeed.
“Jonathan is a smashing guy who is always happy to stop and talk,” said Les Williams, master stats man and historian of Llanelli rugby and everything to do with it.
“When James won his first cap in 2018 I bumped into Jonathan in the car park and he couldn’t have been happier for his brother, saying: ‘I hope one day we get the chance to play in the same team’.
“It was brilliant when it happened.
“They are like chalk and cheese in many ways but both are good boys.”
It’s strange how two brothers can be so different.
If Jonathan has made a false step in a media interview, someone really ought to tell us when and where such an event took place. He is confident, sure-footed and says the right things, a press officer’s dream.
When the 80-cap centre speaks with the media, the aforementioned press officer knows there are not going to be banner headlines the next morning above a story that contains outrageous quotes or observations.
It is fair to say different rules apply with Davies junior.
His response in 2018 as to why Wales were producing so may outstanding opensides was one that could best be classed as post-watershed, involving as it did a line that some, er, politically incorrect comics at the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club back in the day might have thought twice about unleashing on the punters.
And there’s the ‘Cubby Boi’ tattoo on his knuckles, a work of art that reputedly came about as a result of a £1,000 bet with Rhys Priestland ahead of a lads’ trip to Las Vegas.
Cubby, as Davies the younger is known, was also hit by a three-week suspension after using foul language and making an obscene gesture during a European Champions Cup match — “what I did was the most stupid thing I have done on a rugby field,” he admitted later.
But within weeks of returning from his ban he encountered more controversy when he was accused of diving after being on the wrong end of a slap from Saracens lock Will Skelton.
An angry Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall piled in, declaring he would be devastated if any of his players acted that way, while former England hooker Brian Moore accused Davies of ‘cheating by exaggeration’ and urged World Rugby and referees to act to stop diving creeping into the sport.
Davies’s response? A tweet showing Skelton’s head photoshopped on a boxer’s body with a smiling Davies laying prone on the canvas and McCall and Moore watching on.
The most highly-paid media officer could not have done better,
Clever use of humour had defused a tricky situation, while Davies junior showed enough maturity thereafter for Wayne Pivac to say the player had grown into a leadership role at the Scarlets.
FOXY AND CUBBY
It’s quite some distance from those early days with Carmarthen Quins.
“I think his confidence grew as he developed as a rugby player,” said Steff Thomas.
“He became a joker and was well liked at the club.
“He coined the phrase ‘Q for ever’ as in Quins for life.
“When time allows, we see him at the odd game, while he’s still in touch with many of the boys he played with, which says a lot about him. I think he remembers his time at Quins very fondly.
“I know Jonathan a bit, too, and it’s quite sobering when you have a chat with him. Although he has a bit of banter in him, he’s quite serious and plays it by the book, whereas James is different.
“That said, there’s the potential for James to be misunderstood.
“But he’s been true to himself and strong enough to be himself, which is important.”
The two brothers famously acquired their nicknames as their parents ran the Fox and Hounds pub in Bancyfelin. Jonathan became known as ‘Foxy’, with James ending up as ‘Cubby’.
The tales of the two battling in the garden are well known, with James once telling The Guardian: “Luckily the pub had a nice big park area which was our back garden. There were no iPhones or iPads so me and my brother would just be out playing football and rugby. That’s where my skill levels come from.”
Who usually won? “Silly question. I used to run rings around him. Whenever anyone scored a screamer in football they had to lie on their back like Paul Gascoigne and be squirted with water bottles. Good times.”
But the two were to take different roads to the top.
Jonathan’s progress was seamless: a Test debut at 21, two Lions tours, a stint as his region’s captain, a lorryload of caps for Wales, time abroad and back home.
By contrast, James was not even offered a professional contract until he was 23.
But he gives the impression of having enjoyed it all.
In that Guardian interview he came up with the line that might be one day be seen as his rugby epitaph: “I’d rather have fun and eventually achieve my goal rather than be more boring and have a lot more caps.”
A PRICE FOR EXUBERANCE?
Has his exuberant personality really denied him more Test outings?
“I wouldn’t say so,” says Steff Thomas.
“He’s been playing during a time when there’s been a queue of candidates for the seven jersey, some of them world-class, like Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric.
“Maybe people are just looking for something that’s not there rather than looking at the real picture.
“James has probably learned to harness his character and use some of the banter and all the rest at the right time.
“But it’s all part of growing up and learning.”
Along the way there have been challenges for Davies to deal with. “Ah,” laughs Thomas. “I remember we were out on a Quins social and were sat at the bar when some guy clocked James with his baby face and started picking on him.
“This guy kept going on and on.
“James got up and I thought he was going to the toilet.
“I said: ‘If you are going to the toilet, go the proper way. Don’t be scared of that man’.
“He said: ‘No, I’m not going to the toilet. I’m going this way’.
“He went past me and over to the guy. They went eyeball to eyeball before James gave him a few taps and that was the end of it.
“We were all sitting there, open-mouthed.
“James loves that story. He exaggerates it, too, saying no one had sorted out that guy in 20 years.”
THE CUT-ABOVE CUB
Thomas continues: “What I remember James for most is his rugby.
“I went to watch an age-grade match and there was this kid who was clearly a cut above.
“He was tremendous, even at that young age.
“What caught my eye was his ability to jackal. It set him apart an absolute mile.
“He was so gutsy and willing to put himself in positions where other kids wouldn’t go.
“After we signed him, there were four or five turnovers a game — minimum. It’s always been his number one quality on the field, that ability to steal opposition ball.
“He fought his way into the team and established himself.
“But you could see he always had more in him.”
Jonathan once declared James to be the better rugby player of the two.
That might surprise some, coming from a man who has excelled on the last two Lions tours.
Let’s just say they are both top-drawer at what they do.
James is recovering from hip surgery right now, with Jonathan on the mend after the knee injury he sustained at the World Cup. But the hope is both will be fit for the autumn.
Will they play for Wales together again?
Where’s that old crystal ball when you need it most?
But let’s be bold and say there seems a decent chance.
When rugby does spring back into life, the expectation is there’ll be a glut of internationals to follow, with Test rugby important in funding the rest of the sport.
Rotation might be the name of the game and so a significant pool of players could be involved.
Whatever, it will just be good to see the two brothers back on the pitch.
When they are fit and firing, Welsh rugby is a better place.