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The story of the well-known Welsh rugby player who just quietly left in search of a future

Steve Shingler’s story is the tale of a Welsh rugby player in the era of Project Reset.

Out of contract and without a firm future, the Cardiff Blues utility back headed for the south west of France earlier this month.

He joined up with Division Two side Stade Montois on a short-team deal until the end of the season in the search for regular rugby and to put himself in the shop window.

It looks to be working and he hopes to have the next leg of his rugby journey sorted pretty soon, with his time at the Blues now over.

It’s been a testing few months for the 27-year-old who has found himself caught up in the uncertainty surrounding the regional game in Wales.

With the Project Reset discussions ongoing and budgets for next season unclear, the Blues weren’t in a position to make him a firm new offer.

The weeks went by and still there was no definite contract extension on the table.

On top of that, Shingler wasn’t playing rugby, with Gareth Anscombe and Jarrod Evans ahead of him in the queue for the No 10 jersey and no shortage of centres either.

So when the opportunity came to get some game-time elsewhere and put himself out there to potential suitors, he grabbed at the chance.

His move to the town of Mont-de-Marsan followed a period where he found himself playing a waiting game with the Blues.

“They said at the start of the year there would be a contract for me, but there was a lot of uncertainty with Project Reset,” he said.

“You just didn’t have a clue what was going on with it really.

“In the past with contracts, I’ve had things pretty much sorted by December or January.

“But this time it was just dragging on.

“We were told there was a Reset deadline of February 5.

“Then that was pushed back into March.

“So they couldn’t tell me how much the contract would be for.

“It wasn’t the Blues’ fault as such. It was just the fact they couldn’t sign any players.

“Time was going on and I couldn’t be certain whether they would offer me a deal for next season.

“It was just a frustrating time really.

“I saw that the WRU came out and apologised to the Wales players about all the uncertainty.

“But it felt like they were forgetting about all the regional boys that hadn’t signed contracts. That was a bit annoying.

“It’s not a good time to be outside international rugby.”

To add to his frustration, two-times Wales tourist Shingler was also finding himself kicking his heels on the sidelines.

“It was getting to the stage where I was just a professional trainer rather than a player,” he said.

“I’d only had four games all season.

“I played 30 matches in my first year at the club and every game last season until I injured my ankle in November 2017.

“But since then I’ve only had something like six starts in 14 months.

“Sometimes that’s just the way it goes in rugby. Jarrod Evans has been playing so well and Gareth Anscombe is Wales’ first-choice 10.

“It was just unfortunate that I was behind the two best outside-halves in Wales.

“I was playing fairly well when I got the chance. It was just a case that they were playing better.

“I could have taken the easy option and stayed and just picked up my money.

“But that wasn’t a pathway I wanted to go down.

“I feel I’m still pretty close to my prime and I needed to play rugby.”

It was that desire which saw Shingler set off for France, although at one point it looked as though he was heading much further afield.

“It was the maddest two weeks of my life,” said the former Scarlets and London Irish midfield man.

“Initially, I had a bit of interest from the Blues Super Rugby team in Auckland.

“They were looking for a 10 for the end of the season because one of their fly-halves was injured.

“But things went quiet on that front.

“Then Stade Montois came in and said they needed someone to play 10/12 straight away.

“It was a chance to join for seven or eight games.

“John Mulvihill could see I was desperate to play rugby and said he completely understood.

“For me, it was a choice between sitting up in the Vale or going out to play rugby in the sun. It was close to a no-brainer.”

Within a matter of days, the deal was done and it was at that point Shingler realised his time with the Blues was up.

“It all happened so quickly,” he said.

“I told John it looked like the move to France was on and he shook my hand and said ‘All the best, thanks for your time in the Blues’.

“I cleaned out my locker, said goodbye to five or six of the boys who were there and that was it.

“That was my last time with the Blues after two and a half years.

“Up to that point, conversations had still been ongoing about a new contract, but that’s when I knew I was moving on for good.

“It’s a bit of reality check for people that professional sport can be pretty brutal and cut throat.”

 

Released from his contract by the Blues, he was on his way and no sooner had he arrived in France than he was straight into the action on the back of just a couple of training sessions.

He made his debut as a replacement centre against Bayonne, helping Stade Montois fight back to secure a 17-13 win.

And then last Friday night, he started at No 12 in a narrow 11-9 defeat away to Carcassonne, leaving the club fifth in the table.

It’s fair to say French rugby has already made an impression on him, particularly the build-up to games.

“It’s definitely a very different experience,” he revealed.

“The warm-ups are absolutely crazy.

“It’s like the image you have of French changing rooms from the 1970s, with head butting and players frothing at the mouth.

“We have a 40 minute warm-up on an indoor astroturf pitch where no-one touches the ball!

“We’ve got this ex-military guy as our strength and conditioning coach. He’s a bit of Mr Motivator.

“He’s a real hard man enforcer and he gets everyone going.

“There’s motivational music pumping out really loudly and players are running round in a circle, shouting ‘allez, allez, allez’.

“You have the squeezes in a circle like you often see before games, but they do it in threes and fours, leaning on each other, forehead to forehead, warming each others necks up.

“It was mad. It was like warming up to go out to the Colosseum.

“It was so much based on emotion.

“People were flying into each other. It was all about getting physically and mentally right and ready for war.

“It was one hell of an initiation and a bit of a taste of what French rugby is like.”

When it comes to the actual rugby, Shingler – who has former Blues prop Anton Peikrishvili as a team-mate – has been presently surprised.

“The standard is better than I thought it would be,” he said.

“It’s actually a good game and I’m really enjoying it.

“There’s big pressure to win your home games.

“The stadium here holds about 15,000 and there was 8,000 for the Bayonne game.

“There are good training facilities and the gym is four times bigger than the one at the Blues.

“It’s a nice club and I’ve had a great welcome here.

“They are big on culture and keeping standards up.

“When you come in every day, you shake everyone’s hand.

“You have to take your shoes off to train in the gym and wear specific gym shoes.

“It’s very professional, but it’s got a kind of club feel. It’s quite a laid back place.

“The language is a bit of a challenge.

“Just about the only French I know is Bonjour and Ca Va!

“They speak so fast and lot of it is lost on me. I just say Tres Bien and nod my head.

“The 9, 10 and 13 either side of me are all French, so it’s quite difficult to communicate during the game, but I am picking it up slowly.

“It’s a huge challenge, but I am absolutely loving it.

“I am playing rugby again and being involved. That’s the biggest thing.

“It’s good to have the aches and pains after a game again.

“Plus, it’s 21 degrees out here, so it’s not too bad.

“It’s certainly an experience I will remember.”

And it’s one that seems to be serving a purpose, with Shingler – younger brother of Wales flanker Aaron – looking to be sorted for next season.

 

“It was a pretty big ask to come out here and try and back myself,” he said.

“The idea was just to play rugby and let other clubs see you play.

“Luckily enough, I should have everything sorted with a club for next season soon.”

For one of the real good guys of Welsh rugby to have a happy ending to his story is welcome news indeed.

 

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