Rugby Union: Three Lions on a crest for Wales

Arguably the most exciting back division in British rugby union goes into action for the first time tomorrow. Neil Pierson reports on the three Lions whom Wales expect to bring home the bacon against Tonga.
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The Independent Online
Call it being a hostage to fortune, but the Lions trio of Neil Jenkins, Scott Gibbs and Allan Bateman cannot even think of making a pig's ear of tomorrow's Test against the South Sea Islanders from Tonga.

The Wales coach, Kevin Bowring, reckons his back division has no equal on these islands for stirring the blood and he fully expects them to live up to their billing in the warm-up to New Zealand at Wembley on 29 November.

Such is Welsh strength behind the scrum, that Bowring can afford to leave out Robert Howley, Arwel Thomas and Leigh Davies for Tonga's visit to Swansea. While they start among the replacements, Jenkins, Gibbs and Bateman will take centre stage.

Gwyn Jones, the Cardiff flanker and Wales captain, said: "We possess a midfield capable of competing with any opponents in the world. I don't think that Jenkins, Gibbs and Bateman have played together across the midfield before, so this game represents a rare opportunity for Welsh supporters.

"If you add two quality wings in Nigel Walker and Gareth Thomas, plus young full-back Gareth Wyatt, then I think you could see some interesting rugby."

After a low-key start to their British tour, Tonga warmed up for the Test with a 29-13 victory over Bath on Wednesday night. The three previous meetings have all gone Wales' way, but two of those successes produced narrow winning margins.

"We are in a no-win situation," Bowring said. "If we win by a big margin, people will point at the Tongan weaknesses, and if we only scrape through, then they will point the finger at us and say we failed again."

Wales' only fitness doubt concerns Gareth Thomas, but he is expected to recover from an ankle injury sustained during Wales A's 51-8 defeat against New Zealand on Tuesday.

Tonga, coached by Jonah Lomu's manager and mentor, Phil Kingsley-Jones, field three players currently with British clubs - the Bristol wing Dave Tiueti, plus the Ebbw Vale pair, Siu Taumololo and Kuli Faletau. The impressive second row Saia Latu makes his international debut after playing for Natal Under-21s and partners Faletau in the Tongan engine room.

WALES (v Tonga, Swansea, tomorrow, ko 2pm): Wyatt (Pontypridd); Thomas (Bridgend), Bateman (Richmond), Gibbs (Swansea), Walker (Cardiff); Jenkins (Pontypridd), John (Pontypridd; Loader (Swansea), Williams (Richmond), Young (Cardiff), Moore (Moseley), Voyle (Llanelli), Appleyard (Swansea), Jones (Cardiff, capt), Thomas (Bath). Replacements: Davies (Cardiff), A Thomas (Swansea), Howley (Cardiff), S John (Cardiff), Humphreys (Cardiff), Williams (Cardiff).

TONGA: Tonga; Tiueti, Tatafu, Tanginoa, Faka'osifolau; Taumalolo, Mone; Briggs (capt), Ma'asi, Ta'u, Latu, Faletau, Pohiva, Tu'ipilotu, Molitika. Replacements: Tai, Afeaki, Nguaumo, Hafoka, Matakaionogo, Lavaka.

Referee: S Borsani (Argentina).