‘Chicken’ winning the ‘Biggar is better’ debate

It’s not often you hear a player call an opponent chicken.

It’s certainly not the kind of word you expect to hear emanating from the mouth of an Irish rugby international on the eve of a crucial Six Nations clash in Cardiff where the locals are fiery enough without a newspaper clipping hanging from the home dressing-room walls.

But, enough. Maybe we should just let Bundee Aki explain — before this goes any further — exactly what it is he means when he talks about Gareth Anscombe, the Welsh out-half with whom he played back in the day at the Chiefs.

“People just called him Chicken because of his legs,” said the Ireland centre. “They weren’t as big as his upper (body) so we used to call him Chicken. He’s a good lad. He played full-back for the Chiefs and played really well. He’s obviously gone straight in at 10 (for Wales).

“He’s playing very well. It’s going to be another big task. He’s another player who is going to be a real handful for us. I know his dad as well. Yeah, they’re good people.”

Anscombe’s father Mark — one-time Ulster head coach — and mother Tracy will be flying in from New Zealand to watch their boy orchestrate the Welsh performance as Warren Gatland’s side seek the win that would deliver a Grand Slam and Six Nations title.

Tracy was born and bred in Cardiff before moving south as a teenager and her son’s Welsh heritage goes much deeper. Yet the player was speaking as recently as last October about how some Welsh fans still hadn’t accepted him.

He’d been persuaded to make the switch by Gatland four years earlier, but early seasons with Cardiff Blues were hampered by a pelvic injury and he suffered from being bounced between ten and 15.

The hostility puzzled him. He suspected that it might have been his close connection to Gatland but did his best to assimilate. The Welsh national anthem was learned — not an easy job in itself — and he went about his work on the pitch with diligence.

It may be that some of his naysayers simply don’t see him as the national 10. The jersey has held a mythical place in the Principality’s folklore for decades and the debate as to the current generation’s best fit has been long and complicated.

Anscombe, Dan Biggar, Rhys Patchell and Rhys Priestland have been in the mix, but it is Anscombe who has claimed dibs ahead of Biggar through the autumn tests and into the Six Nations.

The battle between the two has been a fascinating sub-plot to this tournament with Biggar, hampered by a knee injury of late, starting against Italy and producing a sublime last quarter off the bench against England.

But he plays second fiddle again this afternoon.

Jonathan Sexton spoke about the pair earlier this week and the manner in which the Ireland out-half jumped from one to the other pretty much summed up a dilemma shared by coaches and fans.

“He’s been good, hasn’t he?” said Sexton of the less experienced Anscombe. “He has kept his position for the four games so I am sure he will play there again and obviously Dan Biggar had a huge impact off the bench against England.

“They are two quality operators and we will be prepared for both of them because I am sure we will play against both at different stages.”

The legendary Barry John said prior to November that Gatland should declare Anscombe his man through to the World Cup.

A “natural footballer” he said of the Kiwi.

This, after all, is a guy whose choice as ten for the New Zealand U20s eight years ago forced Beauden Barrett to migrate to full-back on a World Cup-winning side and the theory goes that he is better able to unlock the potential Wales possess in the outside channels.

Then again, Biggar took to the field against England to a chorus of considerable cheer. Shane Williams has described him as the best ‘safety No.10’ in the world game while Sexton harked back to that Cardiff cameo when it was put to him that Anscombe brings something different to the table.

“Well, it didn’t tell in the last 20 minutes against England when Dan Biggar looked pretty impressive to me. So, look, I know Dan well from the Lions tour and I know what a great competitor and great player he is and he has done well for Wales in the past.”

Anscombe or Biggar, or Biggar and Anscombe?

The debate goes on.

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