Nick Purewal's Holm Truths column: Mining and Max Boyce keep Tavis Knoyle grounded
A FACE caked in coal whistling Hymns and Arias and trying to sleep on the job, Tavis Knoyle lived the Welsh village idyll. Gloucester's new scrum-half admits mining and Max Boyce keep him level-headed now he works above ground.
You can hear the rubbish rustling, the line-marking machine trundling.
Listen, it is Saturday morning stirring Glynneath, the church bell tolling and the faithful hymning.
Come closer now. It is Max Boyce busying, ordering and preparing. It is Saturday afternoon rousing Glynneath rugby club, the tight-fives grunting and the half-backs hip-swaying.
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Listen. Time passes.
Tavis Knoyle loves that little changes in his South Walian home village.
A musical superstar or a Welsh rugby hero: when you go back, everyone still has the same job to do.
"People are massively proud of Max, he's such a good person," explained Knoyle, of Glynneath RFC's president and Welsh folk music legend. "You'll see him all year round, marking out the fields.
"You'll see him picking up litter one day, then playing Sydney Opera House the next.
"He lives right next door to the club – he charges people extra to get in to a game if he doesn't like them!
"But he's a great bloke and he does a lot for the club.
"Max is a good friend, to everyone in the community.
"Over the years, I always remember him watching us play, he would always be there on Sundays watching the junior sides play, unless he was away telling jokes and singing.
"His wife and family are lovely too, they are brilliant.
"Max was a great role model growing up, for someone to be in his position and still get stuck in. Everyone realises that I think.
"That's the way he is, he's just a properly nice guy.
"I played at Glynneath until I was about 18, and then I was lucky enough to go to Neath semi-pro and the Scarlets professional.
"No one changes in Glynneath – but that's what's great about it.
"Everyone's the same: everyone works hard and looks out for each other.
"You know people to say hello to, and it's nice, it has a great identity."
Knoyle made his Wales debut against the All Blacks in Dunedin, in a 42-9 defeat in June 2010.
The 23-year-old's shirt still hangs on the Glynneath clubhouse wall.
The homespun half-back has been an instant hit with his Kingsholm team-mates, so humble and hard-working – with a humour as sharp as it is honest.
"It was tough, working in the coal industry," he continued, "but if you asked boys I worked with, they would probably tell you all I did was sleep on the job! They would be walking over and around me while they worked.
"I tried to get away with murder but it could be hard, especially when I was on the shovel. I used to train with a couple of the boys there, a bit of fitness, weights and things.
"I left school at 16, worked in a factory first, then I helped my friend fit windows. Then I moved onto a coal washery.
"It was separating the different elements of coal, working between 30 and 50 metres underground, filling and loading lorries going to Poland and different places like that.
"I was there for a year-and-a-half, and to be honest that was excellent. I made loads of great friends, and I try to catch up with them as much as I can still."
Knoyle credits fortune's favour for his rapid rise, but he would be nowhere without the bravery of hard graft.
He added: "I was working eight to 10 hours a day then travelling down to train and play for Neath.
"I was training twice a week and playing on Saturday.
"Phil Davies was coaching the Wales Under-20s at the time, and I was fortunate enough that he saw me, and invited me to train with them – because I wasn't in an academy or anything. After a couple of lucky games, I was asked to go down to the Scarlets.
"It was four great years at the Scarlets, but things happen for a reason and I absolutely love it here already.
"I'm glad that it all happened like that with the jobs to be honest, it makes you appreciate it that much more, and it gives you great perspective.
"I've learned an awful lot more out of rugby than I have in it."