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Davies played a key part as Wales secured the Five Nations Grand Slam in 1971 before skippering his side to the Championship in 1975 and another clean sweep a year later.
The former London Welsh and Swansea No. 8 was also part of the successful Lions tours to New Zealand and South Africa in 1971 and 1974.
Wales can secure their third Grand Slam in eight years with victory over Les Bleus at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, and Howley believes there is no better way to pay tribute to Davies.
“It's a sad day for Welsh rugby,” said Howley. “The players were told yesterday morning, and it gives us even more motivation for today on what is hopefully going to be a great game for Welsh rugby.
“It's emotional. I met him on several occasions when I was captain and he gave me plenty of words of wisdom. He was a very humble man who knew the game inside out.
“The players, the management, we all send our sincere condolences to the family.
“Unfortunately I never played with him, but from what I'm told he was a colossus.
“To only lose nine games as a player for Wales, the amount of caps, to play eight Tests for the Lions, he's an icon of world rugby.
“We can speak frequently of world-class players, but icon and legend belongs to ‘Merv the Swerve’.”
Wales brushed aside Italy 24-3 at home last weekend to move within touching distance of their second Grand Slam of Warren Gatland’s four-year tenure.
And after the disappointment of their narrow 9-8 World Cup semi-final exit to France in Auckland last year, Howley emphasised the need for Wales to rise to the occasion.
He added: “We have experience and the new kids on the block, and it is important we go out and play without fear.
“Every game you play for Wales as a youngster — and we've got a fair amount of youngsters — you become more mature.
“They haven't got that baggage of losing games, and through that confidence of the World Cup we've gained a hell of a lot.
“The one thing that is special about this side is that they find a way. In the last 15 minutes of a match you expect them to go on and win the game.
“That mental toughness has sometimes been lacking in previous sides throughout the last couple of decades.”