4:55pm Friday 16th August 2013
By Will Bain
It’s been a big Summer for Pontypool’s Gareth Maule. The centre saw his mate George North leave the Scarlets, missed out on Wales’ tour of Japan, and had to deal with his own contract situation.
Here the likeable 12 talks to Will Bain about his new deal, the new season and Rhys Priestland’s new physique.
IT was a turbulent start to the Summer for the Scarlets.
Promising outside-half Owen Williams decided his future lay at Welford Road with the Leicester Tigers.
But that wasn’t close to the biggest news. As the club secured a Rabo Direct play-off place for the first time, Lions and Wales star George North’s future was suddenly the ball in a fairly unsavoury and high profile game of political rugby football, epitomising the frothing tensions between the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions.
Amidst the backdrop, the Scarlets faltered, going down 28-17 to Ulster at Ravenhill in their play-off semi-final.
North eventually moved to Northampton, his wing colleague Andy Fenby to London Irish and scrum-half Tavis Knoyle went to Gloucester.
The exodus could have continued too, with plenty of interest in Gareth Maule.
“I had options,” the 25-year-old explains.”I’m actually English qualified because my Grandad is from Bristol. The English clubs get a bit of money to help towards developing EQPs (English qualified players) so there was quite a bit of interest in England and I had an option in Ireland.
“But I sat down with Simon [Easterby, Scarlets head coach]and we had a discussion about my intentions and he agreed with me, and I was happy with where he wanted to take the club so I was delighted to sign a new deal here, I’m still really enjoying it out here,” he said.
The Scarlets will have been delighted, in four years at the West Wales region Maule has clocked up 90 appearances.
“It’s always difficult when things off the field come to the for,” he said of the North situation.
“It certainly wasn’t ideal. I don’t think it was ideal for George either to be honest.
“It was sad to see him go but it something you just get used to being a professional rugby player. It happens everywhere .”
But a line seemed to be drawn there, and since news at Parc Y Scarlets has been positive.
Stephen Shingler came back to the region, Jonathan Davies who had previously signed a new deal at the region shone as the Lions triumphed in Australia and Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland looks set to be fit for the new year after recovering from injury.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys too who are hungry to do well so we’re positive,”Maule said ahead of their first pre-season run against Exeter on Saturday.
“Mix those in with the internationals and although weknow it’s going to be tough particularly in the European cup where we’ve got a very tough pool, we want to try and get back to those play-offs again.
“There’s no hiding from the fact that the international boys [Jon Davies and Scott Williams] are goig to be in prime position to start but I’m not going to lie down I want to push for those places. Sice I’ve been here I’ve always played 20-25 games.
“Jon’s a great guy, he really deserved what happened for him out there this Summer.
“With the circumstances around Brian O’Driscoll I thought he copped a lot of unfair stick. Brian’s been class whenever I’ve played against him but Jon did his talking on the pitch. He was one of the best players on the tour, I even think Warren had that harder choice, Jon was outstanding and I think people should have given him more support.”
A mark of the man, and the spirit at the Scarlets was that Davies was back in training early to join the squad on a tough military training week at St Athan last week.
“It was a get home straight to sleep kind of night after that,”laughs Maule.
So was Priestland, and Maule again had nothing but praise for a man who will be looking to regain his Welsh jersey from Dan Biggar this Autumn.
“Fair play he’s looking pretty sharp,” Maule said.
He’s not joking, in a shot on his Twitter account the beefed up outside-half is dwarfing back-rower Josh Turnbull. To steal a colloquialism, he’s ripped.
“He’s worked really hard. His problems were well documented last season, but he’s put a lot in and I think he can’t wait to get going, as that picture shows he’s looking in good nick.”
And Maule’s dream to play alongside his mates not just for the red of the Scarlets, but Wales too haven’t gone either.
Maule is keen to distance himself from any bad mouthing of selection for Wales’ shoddy Summer tour of Japan.
But if he’s too modest, it is fair to say a number of the selections raised eyebrows amongst fans.
The site of Rhys Patchell on the crash ball from 13 in the second test will long sit long in the memory, and not as one of Welsh rugby’s finest hours.
All the proud Maule will say on the issue is “ I was obviously disappointed not to get a chance to go on tour, but I’m still desperate to play for Wales. That’s going to continue to drive me on,” he said.
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