With this year’s Rugby World Cup now less than a 100 days away, the curtain has come down on the illustrious careers of three international Welsh forwards. First Josh Navidi called time on his career. An injury to his neck meaning he retired from all forms of rugby in April. Then, hot on the heels of Navidi came another simultaneous announcement in May. Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric would be calling it quits. Tipuric will continue domestically with the Ospreys, but has retired for Wales. Let’s pay tribute, now that AWJ, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi have called time on their careers.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) May 31, 2023
Rugby World Cup experience Lost
That’s a combined total of two-hundred-and-eighty-four caps that Wales will no longer be able to call upon. A wealth of experience and rugby playing ability. AWJ (at the time of writing) will captain the Barbarians in one-off games against a World XV, and versus Swansea. Those games will be an excellent way for this modern great to ride off into the sunset (perhaps, as a decision hasn’t been formally announced regarding the Ospreys) During his influential Welsh career, AWJ helped Wales reach a number one global ranking, win three Grand Slams & reach a World Cup semi-final.
There’s not much more to be said that hasn’t already been said about him. Should you need reminding some of this war horse’s many attributes included: being fiercely competitive, an immensely strong tackler, adept at the breakdown, an ability to offload, possessor of rugby-intelligence/street-smarts & innate leadership qualities. He’ll be missed.
It’s worth remembering the extent to which AWJ would have put his body on the line for his country. He did this a world record 158 times. His love of Wales was clear for all to see. For AWJ to get where he has in rugby he would have needed to make huge personal sacrifices. Like other elite level professional sportsmen and women, this would have impacted not only him, but his family and friends too.
Moving onto Tipuric. Had it not been for Sam Warburton (another Welsh great, let’s face it, we’ve been spoilt over the years), he would have got his ton of caps for Wales. He had to bide his time but once he had cemented his place in the Welsh side. Tipuric always impressed with his outstanding feel for the game.
Like AWJ, Tipuric was a consistent performer with a relatively untroubled injury record. Some have speculated that the foot injury he suffered late in the season for the Ospreys may be worse than first thought? Might that have played a part in his decision to retire from international rugby?
Ask a rugby fan who their favourite player is (for another team unless they’re an Ospreys supporter) and you can bet your bottom dollar that many would say Tipuric. A forward with the kicking and handling skills of a back, Tipuric also possessed all the required skills of a good back-rower. Prowess in the line-out, seldom missing a tackle, and a talent for jackalling and turnovers. That allied to deft hands, pace, an unflappable nature & buckets of rugby-intelligence, would lead most to conclude, “what more do you possibly need?”
Perhaps he has called it a day to prolong his career with the Ospreys? If that’s the case then there is a silver lining to the cloud of retirement announcements. Most, if not all, will be glad to see Tipuric grace the pitch for a while longer.
Navidi had a shorter Welsh career that AWJ & Tipuric. He too though was an outstanding servant to Welsh rugby. Although Navidi was first called up in the early noughties. It wasn’t until the late noughties that he became a regular in the Welsh jersey. Navidi played at the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019 as well as winning a Grand Slam. He had an all-action style of play, which may have increased his chances of having to end his stint early due to in jury. Like every good international flanker, Navidi made use of his physicality, tackling ability and turnovers to defend, or to set his team onto the attack.
Navidi’s backstory is noteworthy too. He came to Wales to study civil-engineering in Bangor, North Wales, and is the son of an Iranian wrestler. He can be spotted on the decks in the clubs of Cardiff, and has had business interests in personal-fitness, and more recently, car dealerships. It will be fascinating to see how all three players evolve off the field, whether in business, coaching, music or the media for example.
Swapping the egg for decks 🎧 pic.twitter.com/1AoywOiFHg
— Josh Navidi (@Jnavidi) May 11, 2023
Some final thoughts…
To conclude, “What might this all mean in the context of Welsh rugby and with an impending Rugby World Cup on the horizon?” With Warren Gatland back at the helm, is he going with bigger/heavier forwards at the World Cup? Is that more in line with his style than the lighter Tipuric, or the older AWJ? Loyal servants though they are, might they both have decided that they didn’t want to be water-carriers in France later this year? If indeed they were told that they would only be playing a minor part and this year’s global soiree?
It’s been a very hard twelve months for Welsh rugby and the professionals who ply their trade there. There have been player’s strikes averted less than 24 hours before an international, stories of misogyny within the corridors of the WRU, and the exposure of the widespread underfunding of the Welsh regions contrasted against the bloated, overspending of the WRU on vanity projects and social functions.
On a positive note let’s doff our caps to these absolute warriors. We all like to put our sporting heroes on too high a pedestal. Or throw rotten fruit at them, when in our eyes, they have failed us. When all is said and done AWJ, Tipuric and Navidi have been reliable, resilient, consistent and professional. Will we see their likes again? Hopefully it won’t be too long. Chapeau legends, chapeau.
“Main photo credit”