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The case for Dan Lydiate: I'm better now than when I won Six Nations player of the year

Wales Online logo Wales Online 5 days ago Mark Orders

Short of driving his tractor onto Wayne Pivac’s lawn and through his French doors, there’s not much more Dan Lydiate can do to make Wales’ head coach sit up and take notice.

The teak-tough back rower, a well-established member of the mid-Wales farming community, has helped lead the Ospreys away from the many problems they encountered last season. He had last weekend off, but his 133 tackles in the Guinness PRO14 this season, many of them on some of the opposition’s biggest ball carriers, underline the effort he has put in over recent months.

Against the Scarlets on Boxing Day, there were 30 hits in one game.

Even by the standards of the 2012 Six Nations player of the tournament, that was going some.

As with Jamie Roberts, the only barrier to a Wales recall appears to be his age.

Lydiate has just turned 33.

Should what it says on a man’s passport matter more than what he can do on the pitch?

That is the question.

How relevant, then, is the ‘a’ word?

“If you asked a lady her age, she’d say it’s just a number,” laughs Ospreys head coach Toby Booth.

“I look at capability.

“I’m sure people raised a few eyebrows when Stephen Myler walked through the door at the Ospreys at 36 years old, but look what he’s doing for us.

“Now I see an English outside-half on Scrum V.

“He defies age.

“The similarities between him and Dan are in their appetite, their professionalism, their desire.

“They just love the game and they just want to play. Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric — the constant is they love the game and want to compete.”

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Is Lydiate playing Test-quality rugby right now?

It’s a question Booth dances down the wicket to hit out of the ground.

“I think so,” he replied. “He’s been absolutely brilliant.

“You talk about the resurgence at the Ospreys and the epitome of that is Dan Lydiate.

“He’s hit the best fitness markers of his career. He’s extremely fit and that’s an accolade to our programme and our strength and conditioning department.

“Not only is he enjoying himself and has a big smile on his face, he’s also leading by example and leading in areas of the game that he’s renowned for.

“I’ve had dialogue with people around how they think he’s going.

“We want to push him because we want as many of our team as possible to be pushing for international standard. That shows the quality of player we are trying to develop and trying to improve.”

It will be fascinating to learn what Pivac thinks on this one.

Lydiate’s form isn’t something new.

He was the Ospreys Supporters Club's player of the season last term, an award that only hints at the effort he put in during a campaign that was a huge struggle at the Liberty amid injuries, Wales calls and a squad that had been hit by historic budget cuts.

An early-season game against Munster provided a microcosm of what Lydiate contributed.

With the Ospreys seriously depleted, their blindside flanker and acting skipper produced a performance loaded with commitment. Maybe it was his finest display for the region.

So much did he give that even the Munster press person could sense an hour or so later that this was a man who deserved to have the weight taken off his feet.

She redirected an interview with the Irish province’s coach Johann van Graan to another part of the media room to allow Lydiate the chance to conduct his press duties from the comfort of a seat.

It was the first time all day Munster had given the Ospreys anything without a fight.

But the very least Lydiate deserved was to be offered a pew.

Now, the very least the Shaun Edwards' favourite player of old deserves is to have his challenge for a Wales recall given serious consideration by the national selectors.

Does he still harbour Wales ambitions?

What do you think?

“When you’re playing, you want to be the best version of yourself and you want to play at the highest level,” he says.

“If Wales come calling, I’m definitely up for that.

“But if they don’t and go with different players, then that’s out of my control.

“I still want to be the best version of me that there is.

“That’s the way I’ve always been.

“A lot of it is out of my control. I just concentrate on doing a good job for the Ospreys.

“The biggest thing is enjoying what I’m doing and we are going well at the minute.”

The mind flicks back to the mixed zone at Twickenham in February 2012. It was actually more like a war zone, with a dazed Leigh Halfpenny sporting a black eye and recovering from a heavy bump to the head and Lydiate tattooed with scars of battle. Again, the No. 6 needed a seat for the interview.

He finished that Grand Slam campaign as Six Nations player of the tournament. How does the level he’s been playing at this season compare with the Lydiate of nine years ago?

“ If I ask myself that question, I think I’m better than the player I was then,” he says.

“It’s a long time ago and the game has changed a lot. You have to develop as a player.

“I feel good at the minute.

“I’m enjoying playing rugby, especially with the boys and how we are playing as a team. We are winning games and when you are winning you have smiles on faces.

“It’s a lot easier to come into work on a Monday morning after a win even if your body is pretty sore. If you have the win behind you it always feels less sore rolling up for work a couple of days later.”

The Ospreys have improved hugely under Booth. There had been green shoots before the March lockdown, with a win over Ulster and a competitive performance against Leinster, but in recent months there’s been a consistent jump in individual and team standards.

“Toby’s come in, drawn a line in the sand and made a fresh start,” says Lydiate.

“He has a way of playing and we all needed to get on board. It takes learning and it’s not going to happen overnight, but we are moving in the right direction.

a man standing in front of a building: Ospreys head coach Toby Booth © Huw Evans Picture Agency Ospreys head coach Toby Booth

“He’s constantly pushing every player in this group, from top internationals like Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones to guys who are just coming through.

“Competition is being driven and everyone's being tested, including me.

“Toby’s given us direction and thinks outside the box. He’s a breath of fresh air.”

It says much for the Ospreys that they’ve been winning without their talisman for so long, Alun Wyn Jones, as he recovers from injury.

The lock was also absent throughout much of the autumn, of course, due to his Wales commitments.

But he’s on the mend.

Whether he makes the opening round of the Six Nations, remains to be seen. The medics’ suggestion was that he could miss Wales’ opening two games because of the knee injury he picked up against Italy, but Jones himself has a more ambitious target.

“Alun Wyn is Alun Wyn,” said Lydiate.

“If you asked him how he’s feeling, he’d say he’s ready to play tomorrow. That’s just the man.

“By all accounts he’s progressing well.

“We can’t mix because we’re in our mini-groups, but Al’s around the place and is a massive character in our squad.

“I’ve seen him out running and he looks in pretty good shape. It’s good to see him bouncing around. He’s a bundle of energy and desperate to get back. I guess it’s a case of watch this space for when he returns. He’s in good spirits.”

We can’t say whether Lydiate is in Wales contention as well.

But we do know he’s been playing well enough to merit such status.

These are the big calls coaches are paid to make.

Whatever happens, Lydiate will not let anyone down.

He isn’t that type of bloke.

You'd have to search high and low to find anyone in Welsh rugby more reliable.

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