Howley admits Davies “will be sorely missed”

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Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has admitted that it is a huge blow for the future of Welsh rugby that star centre Jonathan Davies has agreed a move to French giants Clermont Auvergne from the beginning of next season.

Davies will move to last season’s Heineken Cup finalists after spending his formative years at the Llanelli Scarlets – a path that is becoming increasingly well trodden for Wales’ top players. Howley, speaking to Wales Online at a press conference this morning, paid tribute to the departing star.

“I think it’s a big blow for Wales. I was with Jon in 2009, [when] he played his debut in Canada. He has come on a fair way since then. He was a bit like a rabbit in headlights there but in the summer he was exceptional for the Lions.

“Jon has been outstanding on and off the field and he will be sorely missed. The Scarlets did all they could and I have been aware of the decision Jon wanted to make. But he is ambitious and he’s gone to a side he feels will be right up there in European rugby.”

Howley did confirm, however, that Davies had negotiated release for all of Wales’ autumn internationals next season.

“Once we knew he was leaving, Wales release was our primary concern and he has that. He will be fully available for Wales in the autumn series next year.”

The former scrum-half reiterated the importance of keeping Wales’ top stars in the country for the long-term benefit of the national team.

“We want our players in Wales,” he said. “The facilities we have here are amazing and we want to be able to work with the regions’ conditioning staff and physios. Welsh supporters want to watch the best and so do we. We don’t want to go to France or England to watch our players.”

Howley refused to speculate over whether Davies would make a return in time for the Six Nations, after suffering a serious injury on Saturday against South Africa.

“We are not sure if Jon will be back for the Six Nations,” he said. “It is a huge blow to miss a player of his quality.”