Dowson backs Saints star Biggar to shine under World Cup spotlight
Dan Biggar will relish the pressure of carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders at the Rugby World Cup, according to Northampton Saints forwards coach Phil Dowson.
The Welsh playmaker swapped Ospreys for a move to Franklin’s Gardens last summer before helping his new club upset the odds and secure a first top-four finish since 2015.
His performances off the bench for his country also helped Warren Gatland’s men complete the clean sweep in the 2019 Six Nations for their first Grand Slam in seven years.
And with fly-half rival Gareth Anscombe now ruled out of the World Cup, Dowson insists 29-year-old Biggar has the temperament rise to the occasion under the spotlight in Japan, after being named man of the match in Saturday’s win over England that took Wales to the top of the world rankings.
“Sometimes with big signings there is an unknown around them, but Dan has applied himself every single day at Northampton and puts in 100 per cent commitment,” he said.
“We have a test at the club which is a fitness test based on a former player and it’s pretty brutal, it’s ugly, it’s just a dig-in, it’s not any sort of athletic development.
“It’s just a mindset and Dan won it and I think that speaks volumes of him. He’s willing to dig in for the side and his commitment to the side is second to none.
“He’s a genuine leader both on and off the field in terms of how he conducts himself, so I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Dan Biggar – I hope he gets lots of minutes for Wales.
“He loves pressure, he loves being the man for the moment and he’s got a huge amount of confidence in himself without being over the top.
“He wants to be the man making the decisions and I have a huge amount of respect for that, it’s definitely something Northampton needs and definitely something needed on international stage.”
Biggar is not the only Saints player Dowson will be watching with interest in Japan, with Lewis Ludlam being named by Eddie Jones in his finalised 31-man squad for the tournament.
While the 23-year-old’s selection came as a surprise to some due to the lack of caps to his name, Dowson believes Ludlam’s relentless work ethic has contributed to him being fast-tracked.
“Lewis has worked very hard at his game,” he said. “He’s an all-action, rip-roaring back rower. He gets involved carrying tackling, he’s an unbelievable defender and he’s also good over the ball.
“He’s got a lot of attributes that I think could be hugely valuable but whether or not he starts in there against other potentially more established guys remains to be seen.
“He’s given himself a chance and I’m delighted for him. He’s so intense, so driven and his versatility just comes from the fact that he wants to play.
“I think a lot of people are versatile, but his success comes from his ability to be 100 per cent every single day, whether he is training or playing.
“I think that is certainly noticeable from a coaching point of view and it’s something Eddie Jones has picked up on. He’s first in and last out and he’s not someone you need to ask to hit harder.
“You normally have to get him to calm down to make sure we don’t get any injuries, he knows what he wants as an individual but he’s also very ambitious on behalf of the club as well.”
As well as keeping an eye on Saints’ other World Cup players, Dowson is also looking forward to seeing whether England can live up to their potential as they bid to repeat their 2003 success.
“I was lucky enough to coach an England 15 against the Baa-Baas and I saw the strength in depth as lots of players weren’t eligible and so the side we selected had so much talent,” he added.
“The strength in depth in England is unbelievable and because of the quality of those players, they will have a good chance to do well. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it all comes together.
“I’m also excited to see how Ahsee Tuala or Api Ratuniyarawa go. They will be with Samoa and Fiji respectively and I’m excited to see them in action – as a rugby fan you look forward to seeing those match-ups.”