Dangers of free-thinking Fijians

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The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

reports from Cardiff

During the World Cup in South Africa Alex Evans was singing the praises of the Wales squad. They were fit, dedicated, primed for heroic deeds etc. The reality, he now reveals, was somewhat different. Yesterday he described them as a "bunch of piss-pots".

Evans said that 10 of the squad prepared for an important game by leaving their hotel at midnight and, after savouring the delights of Johannesburg's night life, returned at 5am. Evans claimed they were hung over. "There is a time and a place for everything," he said, "but this wasn't it."

Commenting in a new rugby magazine, First XV, Evans refused to name names but said that Mike Hall, the captain in the World Cup, was not among the revellers. Hall's reward for retiring early to bed with a cup of hot chocolate was to be labelled "boring" by his team-mates. Wales were clearly in the wrong place. Had they been based in Pretoria they would not have discovered any life after midnight.

Evans, after reviving the fortunes of Cardiff, replaced Alan Davies as the Wales coach just prior to the World Cup and he would probably have been in charge for today's match against Fiji at Cardiff Arms Park but for undergoing a shoulder operation. As it is, Evans returns to his native Australia as director of coaching in the new year and the perilous job of rehabilitating Wales falls to Kevin Bowring, their third coach in six games.

Whether Bowring, a Neath boy who cut his teeth with London Welsh, will still be in charge for the Five Nations' campaign is another matter. "I was asked to help out and it's a great honour to have achieved my ambition of coaching the national team," Bowring said. "Whether the WRU will employ a full-time professional coach and whether I am prepared to consider giving up 20 years work ahead of me in a secure job is all open to conjecture. I'm just happy to go along with this one game."

A lot, of course, will also depend on how Wales play today. Bowring, a teacher at Clifton College, said: "My destiny is in the hands of 15 other people. I enjoy the responsibility and the response from the players has been magnificent."

We can take it then that what he describes as his "fresh, young" team has not been breaking curfew at the Copthorne Hotel in Cardiff this week. Fiji have been a curious mixture on this tour, varying between the exasperating and the exhilarating although they were in the latter mode in giving Llanelli the run-around (38-12, five tries to nil) at Stradey Park on Tuesday.

"This is going to be a difficult game for us," Bowring said. "The Fijians will be geared up for the Test match. They've had some disappointing results but have shown really exciting aspects of play. The difference between their best team and the second best is quite distinct.

"Their best XV is centred around men who play outside Fiji. They have a balance between New Zealand discipline and control and the free-flowing seven-a-side instincts that the Fijians are famous for. There are areas we can exploit but if we don't control the game they could let rip."

The most obvious difference between the teams is in the standard of goalkicking. Neil Jenkins may not be the perfect pivot at outside-half (he has received an apology from the selector JPR Williams for a public criticism of his limitations) but he can be relied upon to punish Fiji's notorious indiscipline.

The Fijians, on the other hand, seem to be a coconut shy of the full bounty when it comes to kicking their goals and they have employed the counselling of Frano Botica, the former Wigan points machine and All Black.

Wales have had three successive defeats at the Arms Park and Brad Johnstone, Fiji's New Zealand coach, says it will be a miracle if the Welsh run the ball. He also believes that Paddy O'Brien, the New Zealand referee, will be more sympathetic to Fiji's style of play.

When Wales returned to South Africa, post-World Cup, post-hangover, for a one-off Test against the Springboks, they were beaten 40-11 and such is their demise that that was considered to be a heartening performance. Today, Ieuan Evans, an ever-present on a rollercoaster which has more downs than ups, becomes the most capped player in Welsh rugby history. He makes his 56th appearance, one more than JPR.

WALES v FIJI

at Cardiff Arms Park

J Thomas Llanelli 15 F Rayasi

I Evans Lllanelli 14 P Bale

G Thomas Bridgend 13 S Soravi

N Davies Llanelli 12 L Little

W Proctor Llanelli 11 M Bari

N Jenkins Pontypridd 10 J Waqa

Andy Moore Cardiff 9 J Raulini

C Loader Swansea 1 J Veitayaki capt

J Humphreys Cardiff, capt 2 G Smith

L Mustoe Cardiff 3 E Natuivau

Andrew Moore Swansea 4 A Nadolo

D Jones Cardiff 5 E Katalau

C Quinnell Llanelli 6 I Tawake

H Taylor Cardiff 8 D Rouse

M Bennett Cardiff 7 T Taminavalu

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand) Kick-off: 3.00 (BBC1)

Replacements: 16 S Hill (Cardiff), 17 A Williams (Swansea), 18 R Howley (Bridgend), 19 S Williams (Neath), 20 S John (Llanelli), 21 G Jenkins (Swansea).

Replacements: 16 R Bogisa, 17 W Rokotuiviwa, 18 J McLennan, 19 W Masirewa, 20 V Cavubati; 21 E Batimala.

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