Darts: How Gerwyn Price went from Welsh rugby representative to darting superstar

Before becoming one of the biggest names in world darts, Welshman Gerwyn Price had big ambitions of becoming a force in rugby. 

Price played hooker for Wales throughout the age-grades, with a personal highlight facing the New Zealand haka at the Under-21 Rugby World Championship 15 years ago, a side which featured nine future All Blacks, including Kieran Read. 

He forged a successful domestic career with the oval ball, playing in the Welsh Premiership while enjoying stints with the Glasgow Warriors and rugby league side South Wales Scorpions.

In 2013, he discovered he could throw tungsten arrows just as good as throwing a line-out ball, so he started playing both sports before he had to choose one and darts became the sole focus. 

His rise through the ranks hasn't been easy, with the last 24 months being some of the most rewarding and challenging of his career.

In November 2018, he became the first Welsh winner of a Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) major but his historic triumph was overshadowed by controversy after a feisty encounter against Gary Anderson in the decider. 

While there were some tough times, he currently sits third in the PDC rankings and was due to compete at the NZ Darts Masters in August but the coronavirus pandemic has put a hold on those plans. 

"It was the first time I was meant to be coming to New Zealand," 'The Iceman' told Newshub from his south Wales home. 

"I was looking forward to it. Then the coronavirus had to kick in and everything has been postponed till 2021, so hopefully I'll be able to come down in the next 12 months.

"I've never been so it would be nice to see what the place is all about, it's just nice to be invited and for it to be taken away, I was gutted.

"I was looking forward to meeting fans. I get lots of people asking me when I'm coming, and I was finally going to be there next year, but then it stopped." 

While he has never been to this part of the world, he could have easily been here before with touring Welsh sides if things fell into place in rugby. 

During his youth, he played alongside the likes of current captain Alun Wyn Jones, and British & Irish Lions representative Jamie Roberts and had dreams of wearing the Prince of Wales' feathers on his chest. 

Gerwyn Price in action for Cross Keys.
Gerwyn Price in action for Cross Keys. Photo credit: Suppied: Gerwyn Price.

He describes representing Wales through the years as the proudest moment in his rugby career. 

While playing for the U21s, he recalls an intense encounter against New Zealand in 2005 in Argentina. 

"It was a World Cup and I remember facing NZ in the opener and watching the haka. The atmosphere was amazing and to be standing there was special.

"I remember tackling and centre and I was amazed how strong they were. It was brutal and a different stand compared to us."

New Zealand won the match 60-15 with future All Blacks Liam Messam and Hosea Gear getting on the scoresheet. 

Price then had many successful years in the Welsh Premiership - equivalent to the Mitre 10 Cup - where he represented Neath and Cross Keys, but opportunities to move to the next level were few are far between. 

A personal highlight came when he scored a crucial try to help Cross Keys to a 32-19 win over Pontypridd in the Welsh Challenge Cup final at the Principality Stadium in 2012. 

This was around the time he began playing darts at his local rugby club and with each game he was becoming better with the arrows. 

Crunch time eventually arrived and with a young family, he had to decide whether he wanted to prolong his rugby career or make the transition into darts. 

After two years of being told to give PDC's Qualifying School a crack by former Welsh player Barry Bates, Price took the leap of faith in 2014 and won his Tour Card on day two of four.

At first, he tried to balance rugby and darts, but it ended up becoming too much. 

Gerwyn Price in action during the 2020 World Darts Championship in London.
Gerwyn Price in action during the 2020 World Darts Championship in London. Photo credit: Getty

"I knew deep down six years ago that if you hadn't made it then that becoming a fulltime professional was unlikely. 

"Rugby was probably due to finish, but it was an easy decision looking back. It was one not just for me but for my family looking towards the future. 

"But when I first won my Tour Card, I didn't realise we had to pay to enter events, I thought we just turned up, played darts and got paid but that wasn't the case.

"Had I known that I wouldn't have gone to Q-school, so looking back it's good I never knew.

"The owner for Neath rugby was giving me time off to play darts while still getting paid. I'd just played rugby when I could so I didn't need sponsors which took the pressure off me until I found my feet."

After some hard work, Price worked his way up the ranks and 2018 was his breakout year where he competed on the Premier League circuit for the first time while reaching the later stages of the Masters, UK Open, World Grand Prix and European Championship. In amongst these events, he tore his Achilles which required surgery. 

His big break came in November, when he lifted the Eric Bristow Trophy to a chorus of boos and jeers after beating Scotsman Anderson 16-13 in the Grand Slam of Darts final. 

Anderson took exception to Price's slow play and over-exuberant celebrations, and the two clashed verbally - and nearly physically - on several occasions.

That led to Price being fined £21,500 (NZ $43,000), the biggest in the sport's history, and what followed was a year of boos and abuse anytime he stepped up to the oche. 

Even his family were targeted with vile messages.

"I didn't have an option, I had to deal with it, and I think I did well considering the rubbish I received," he explained. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they can judge, but I have to go up there and play darts.

"Rugby is a team sport if you're down and doubt you have 14 guys there to help you, but if you're struggling and get booed in darts it can be a lonely place and you just want to get off." 

At the same tournament the following year, the boos started to fizzle out when he beat World No. 1 Michael van Gerwen for the first time in his career en route to defending his title.  

He still gets them today, but more people are chanting 'Ice Ice Baby' as he walks onto the stage than before. 

Gerwyn Price after winning the 2019 Grand Slam of Darts.
Gerwyn Price after winning the 2019 Grand Slam of Darts. Photo credit: PDC

Price is now an established arrowsmith, ranked third in the PDC Order of Merit having won £830,750 (NZ$1.6m) over the last two years.

Darts is scheduled to resume next month with five pro-tour events before the top 32 compete in the World Matchplay for the Phil Taylor trophy. 

During the lockdown, Price competed in the PDC's Home Tour event which was eventually won by England's Nathan Aspinall. 

"The PDC Home Tour wasn't the best for me, it's a bit different playing from your kitchen but it'll be nice getting back to the pro tours.

"I was playing well before the lockdown, but it'll be different, I'll be anxious about how my game will be but hopefully it'll be just as good before we stopped."  

If he remains inside the top four next year, he will get an automatic invite to compete at the 2021 NZ Darts Masters, scheduled for the Claudelands Arena on August 20-21.

"Regardless of where I am, I hope the PDC invites me. I was really disappointed I couldn't come this year. 

"I hope the people will like me," he chuckled.