It was hard watching – Rhys Webb found Wales games tough as fan during exile
Rhys Webb ends a six-year Guinness Six Nations absence in the Wales number nine shirt on Saturday admitting he did not even want to watch the team play during his international exile.
The 34-year-old Ospreys scrum-half last begun a Test three years ago and has not made a Six Nations start since 2017.
But the 38-cap Webb returns to Warren Gatland’s starting line-up as Wales head to Italy in the hope of avoiding a Championship wooden spoon.
“I can’t remember what game it was,” Webb said, recalling his period out of Wales favour.
“But my son’s age group were going to watch the game in the Principality Stadium with his rugby team and he asked if I could go.
“I was like, ‘Oh gosh, do I have to?’. But I went and when the boys were singing the anthem and the crowd were going, it felt like, ‘I need to be back here’.
“It was hard watching, especially at the stadium. When it’s on the TV I don’t really have much time with my three boys running round, but at the stadium it was hard.
“I just wanted to be out on the pitch with the boys. It just made me go back to the Ospreys and work hard, keep my head down and keep my focus.”
I've always wanted to be involved in the Wales team and have that number nine jersey. That has not changed
Webb’s first spell at the Ospreys ended in 2018 when he chose to join Toulon, making him ineligible to play for Wales.
He did not meet the 60-cap criteria for those playing outside Wales, although it was claimed the regulations should not apply to him as he had agreed his move to France in 2017 before the rule changes were announced.
“A lot has happened in those six years, but I don’t regret anything,” said Webb, who toured with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand 2017 but featured just five times during Wayne Pivac’s 34-Test reign as Wales head coach.
“For me, things happen for a reason and I’ve never been one to let my standards slip.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in the Wales team and have that number nine jersey. That has not changed.”
Webb gets that chance again alongside Ospreys half-back partner Owen Williams at the Stadio Olimpico and it will be a real family affair in Rome.
“They are coming out for this game, my three boys and my wife, and my mum and dad,” said Webb, who came off the bench during defeats to Ireland and Scotland but was omitted from the matchday squad for the last game against England.
“They have obviously supported me when I have been on the bench but it’s massive I’m wearing the number nine jersey, especially my kids being a little bit older now.
“They keep on asking me, ‘Why aren’t you wearing the number nine jersey? What number are you wearing, why are you wearing number 21 all the time?’.
“I actually put it on the calculator (after being selected) – daddy is number nine, so they know. It’s nice to be back.”