One of the happiest characters in Welsh rugby has been for years after having a “brave” life as a professional.

It took an excursion for Seven Sisters RFC in Division Two West Central to remind Tavis Knoyle just why he started playing rugby in the first place. By its own admission, the Welsh international hand-to-hand half had stopped enjoying the game for the previous two years with the Dragons, amid injuries, consecutive defeats and long team meetings.

In February of this year, he broke up with the Gwent Men and it was unclear what the future held for him. But now, having just turned 32 this week, he wants to go again, after signing for Premiership club Merthyr. As he explains, it was a return to the grass roots in March that revived the flame for him.

Read next: The 53 players who left the Welsh regions and what they plan to do next

“I went and had a game for Seven Sisters with my brother-in-law, who is my best friend. I had about 30 minutes off the bench against Morriston and I really enjoyed it, ”he says.

“Then I had a game for Glynneath against Tondu a few weeks later where I came from the center. It was really nice to be back. It made me realize that I still love the game.

“It made me remember why I started playing in the first place. You play because you care, you play because you love it. You have so much passion for it as a kid. You don’t play for money, you play because you really love the game.

“You just love to be out in the fresh air competing. There are no meetings after meetings, there are no bits to it. All it is is rugby and you go out and enjoy it. It’s skill and art, at the end of the day, and tension.

“As the years go by, it just becomes more of a business and you can lose track of why you started playing rugby. Since I finished with the Dragons in February, it’s probably the happiest I’ve been for years. It was just go back and enjoy playing.It revived my love of the game.

“That’s why I decided to sign for Merthyr. Mr. Stan Thomas called me when I was done and asked me. I said I didn’t know and that I would let him know. But after having those games, I decided ‘Yes, let’s do it’ “

The 11-cap Knoyle joined the Dragons in 2016, joining Tal Selley and Liam Davies as one of only three men to play for all four regions, following previous spells at the Ospreys, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues, as well as Gloucester. He made 61 appearances for the Gwent Men in total, before moving on four months ago.

“It’s a difficult place. I felt for the last two or three years, with injuries, new coaches coming in and hacking and changing all the time, I just had the courage, ”he said.

“I didn’t hate it so much, it just slowed down, with meetings and analysis. I’m more of a doer, someone who likes to do things all the time. You would be in a meeting room for an hour and a half at a time and there are one or two of them a day. You sit in a room and after ten, 15 minutes most people lose interest.

“I just found it really hard and it just got harder. It took the enjoyment out of it. I’ve stopped enjoying it for the last three years probably. I haven’t enjoyed it half as much as I did.

“To be honest with you, there were a lot of things. Part of it was results. Everyone works hard, the players, the coaches, the doctors. You all give up things, don’t go out drinking, you train very hard.

“But then when you don’t get results, you can get in the habit of losing. That can be really demoralizing. You try to pick each other up, you try to laugh, but it’s very, very difficult.

“It simply came to our notice then. When you’re injured and out for a long time, that’s what really worries you. I had nine surgeries in total and the last three were pretty awful. I had two ACLs and a fused wrist. Rugby gives you so much, but it can take an awful lot as well.

“I made it. I missed five years of playing due to injuries during the 13 years. It is not pleasant to walk on crutches. I love my golf, but I can’t even swing a golf club right now because of my wrist. I have a stick in it that is fused with the bone. I can do weights and play rugby, but I can’t swing a golf club. That’s pretty hard. ”

Knoyle added: “There are so many good people at the Dragons. I have some great friends there. I’ve met some nice people there.

“When I left, I hoped and prayed that they would win. I know how hard the players and the staff in the back room work. I wanted them to win. But to survive such a year, I just felt sorry for them as a team and regretted all the boys. I really hope they turn the corner. “

It was some journey for Knoyle, who started with his local club Glynneath, then progressed through Neath, working as a worker in the coal industry in Banwen.

After one match for the Ospreys, he joined the Scarlets in the summer of 2009 and by the end of that next season he was called up to the Wales squad during the 2010 Six Nations, aged just 19, after only ten or so. thus regional excursions. .

“It simply came to our notice then. I sat in the local club watching these amazing players and then a year later I ran around with them training. I was star-struck. I was still eligible for the U20s! “

Knoyle was named in the Welsh squad for the 2010 New Zealand summer tour and went on to win his first cap as a substitute against the All Blacks in Dunedin, in the final game to be played at Carisbrook’s famous “House of Pain” .

“It simply came to our notice then. To go there and represent your country and play for Wales. It was something I always wanted to do as a child, ”he says.

The following year, he went back to New Zealand for the 2011 World Cup as one of three scrimmage halves, along with Mike Phillips and teammate Lloyd Williams.

“That was brilliant, it was amazing. It tested me mentally because at that time I was trying to push Miken and he caught fire. “

Knoyle was a backup to Phillips for the first two group matches against South Africa and Samoa and then started against Namibia, only to lose his place on match day 23 to Williams for the major knockout clashes with Ireland and France.

“I was knocked down and really struggling. It made me grow up and understand ‘Just compete here, this is a competitive sport, wake up’. That was a little opener, but good for me too. “

So how does he now reflect on his international career, which lasted until 2013, with his final cap coming that summer in Japan?

“Looking back sometimes, I wonder if I’m too young or too raw? I feel like when you get older, you learn a lot more, ”he says.

“I competed with Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel, with likes of Lloyd Williams and Gareth Davies. There was competition after competition all the time.

“I competed with probably the best handball half in the world at the time in Mike Phillips. For about two or three years around that period he was unstoppable.

“I used to look at him and think he was my favorite player as a kid, so when I was in the Welsh squad with him, I was always very stellar. I found it pretty hard to go after him and really compete. I never had the murderous instinct at that age.

“He was classy and he was so good off the field. He is a hellish character. He made life really comfortable for me. He was good, he was very helpful. I had one or two things years ago and he was the first to say if you need help with anything, just let me know. Things like that go on for so long. ”

As for the region where he had the best time, he chooses the Scarlets, with whom he was from 2009 to 2013.

“I just found out that there’s a really good mix of experienced players and youngsters out there. The management was really good, you knew where you stood. You had hell off the field, laughing during your downtime. the training ground, it was really intense. It was nervous, but it got the best of you. “

During our chat, the Glynneath-based Knoyle is just as chatty and friendly as ever, with his bubble-filled personality coming to the fore.

“I’ve just been myself over the years. It can get you in trouble, but we are all human beings and have opinions. You have to be true to yourself. It was a vibrant career, it was really beautiful. I consider myself really lucky. “

Away from rugby, father-of-three Knoyle runs the Unit 8 gym in Neath, a project he will now combine with playing for Merthyr.

Tavis Knoyle at his gym in Neath

“I have a young family and a business to run. With Merthyr, it’s Tuesday and Thursday nights and game on Saturday. It made sense and I’m looking forward to it, “he said.

“I know some people say that the premiership is a bad standard, but I think it’s really unfair and dirty to be honest with you. These players have to work twice as hard as everyone else because they work on the day. They have to try to go to the gym before they work out, they are trained after work, many of them will have young families. So it’s a very tough and challenging but rewarding league to play, with good players and good coaches.

“I think it’s great. I agree with the Leader (Dale McIntosh). These young regional players have to play in it. Many Academy players will not play from three or four weeks to the next. It’s not fair. As a youngster, you just want to play and it’s a good experience against older heads, bigger men. I think we are very fortunate and privileged to have the Prime Minister. “

Outlining his ambitions at Merthyr, Knoyle concluded: “When I spoke to Sir Stan, they want to win the league, they want to win trophies. I just want to be part of a team that wins a few games on the bounce. You don’t train and work hard. every week to lose, you do that to try to win.

“I’m hungry, I’m excited and I can’t wait. I just want to go and enjoy rugby the way it is. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.