Davies back for his Wales swan-song: Rugby Union

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The Independent Online
Rob Andrew's startling return to the England squad yesterday may have been greeted by an impromptu chorus of "Here comes the Messiah" from his colleagues, but the real Chosen One will be on the other side of half- way when tomorrow's Triple Crown match kicks off in Cardiff. Nine years after he last started a Five Nations game for his country, Jonathan Davies will take the field clad in the most mystical sporting jersey of them all: the Welsh No 10 shirt.

If it sounds like rugby's equivalent of a Darby and Joan reunion - both men are in their dotage at 34 - it could hardly be more appropriate. So many memories and fond farewells are on tomorrow's agenda - Davies, Andrew, Will Carling and the Arms Park itself have reached the point of no return - that the nostalgia will seep from every pore.

By some distance the most gifted outside-half to emerge in Britain since the halcyon days of Barry John and Phil Bennett, Davies is quite plainly not the player he was prior to his move to rugby league in 1988. That being said, he has more than enough know-how and pure footballing instinct to make a decent fist of filling in for his injured apprentice, the precocious Arwel Thomas, and England, in particular, suffered such traumas in trying to contain him during his golden run in the mid-1980s that it will be no great surprise if they freeze the moment he touches the ball.

Miracles, however, are always at a premium, even for a player considered by his nation to be touched with genius. The Welsh delayed their team announcement in the belief that a whole casualty list of injuries would clear up in time for the championship finale, but when they named it yesterday it became clear that they had acted more in hope than expectation.

Ieuan Evans, Scott Gibbs and Colin Charvis, three of the more influential performers among a resurgent band of Red Dragons, bowed out reluctantly after training and even though Simon Hill, Nigel Davies and Kingsley Jones are no strangers to the rigours of international rugby, the fabric of Kevin Bowring's promising but still fallible side looked substantially weakened.

At least the coach was able to report a double silver lining in the shape of front-row forwards Christian Loader and David Young. Both first-chose props were declared fit to lock horns with the old enemy and in the light of the fact that Mike Voyle, the inexperienced Llanelli lock, will be attempting to live up to his obvious potential in the second row, Bowring was understandably relieved that he could depend on a tried and trusted unit at the sharp end.

As for Davies, the old confidence was much in evidence, even though he admitted that he would start the game on "one leg" due to a knee problem. "I know we've lost some important players for this game, but we will still have 15 internationals on the pitch and irrespective of who plays on the day, a game against England is always an enormous challenge that brings the best out of us.

"To be honest, I was disappointed not to be picked for the previous Five Nations games; certainly, I thought they might have brought me off the bench when things were going wrong against Ireland.

"While this is an exciting chance for me to bow out on a high - Saturday will definitely be my last international appearance for Wales - nothing could ever match the excitement of winning my first cap, which was the ultimate goal. Still, to come back in my mid-thirties and play a game against England is something I'm proud to achieve. A nice hat-trick would finish my career perfectly."

If that does not strike fear into a few English hearts, nothing will.

WALES (v England, Cardiff, tomorrow): N Jenkins (Pontypridd); S Hill (Cardiff), A Bateman (Richmond), N Davies (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bridgend); J Davies (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Voyle (Llanelli), S Williams (Neath), S Quinnell (Richmond), K Jones (Ebbw Vale). Replacements: S John (Llanelli), P John (Pontypridd), G Jenkins (Swansea), D McIntosh (Pontypridd), W Proctor (Llanelli), C Quinnell (Richmond).

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