Davies denied chance to shine

Steve Bale reports on a much heralded return to the union ranks of a former international in Cardiff's 57-9 victory
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If Jonathan Davies is to be the saviour of Welsh rugby - and in this endeavour he had better carry on pleading for patience - he will need the ball, and by design Cardiff appeared to be doing their best to deprive him of it in last night's Arms Park bonanza against Aberavon.

It would be remiss not to wonder just how warm the greeting was among his fellow-players for a 33-year-old who until Tuesday was still a contracted rugby league professional. While the crowd, at least 7,000 fewer than the 14,200 Cardiff had suggested, grew desperate for his involvement, the players declined to oblige.

Mike Rayer and Chris John, Cardiff's existing full-backs, had already made clear their displeasure at the haste with which Davies had been elevated straight into their position, though John was sent away with a flea in his ear by Alex Evans, the Cardiff coach, when he broached the subject at training.

Perhaps they had a point. As the opposition was humble Aberavon - languishing in the nether reaches of the Heineken League First Division, which Cardiff again lead after accruing a full set of five points from a 57-9 victory - you could reasonably argue that Cardiff scarcely needed to give their new recruit quite such a hurry-up.

In fact, listening to Davies himself at his introductory parade on Thursday he seemed as reluctant as Rayer and John. But Gareth Davies, the club's chief executive, admits there are commercial imperatives, especially at a club supposedly pounds 1m in debt, so straight in his namesake had to go. No wonder Gareth was so disappointed at the attendance, though live television coverage on Bonfire Night was a reasonable excuse.

Jonathan had instant personal confirmation of his view that rugby union is less physically demanding than rugby league in this match, as well as confirmation that as full-back or even outside centre, where he moved after Steve Ford's injury, there will be far less to do than there was in rugby league.

"It was a strange experience," he said after a pregnant pause which suggested strange meant unsatisfactory if not downright boring. "I did enjoy it to a degree but I would hope I can contribute a lot more. There seem to be a lot of players spoiling the game rather than being constructive."

He sliced a kick with his first touch after 100 seconds and sent a wild pass away from Nigel Walker the next time he had the ball, 15 minutes later. Altogether, he had the ball eight times in the first half, kicking once, running twice, passing three times and catching one high ball.

No problem there, even if tackles - one missed, one made - were more of a hazard. Adrian Davies, the outside-half, denies he feels under any more pressure than anyone else but he studiously avoided passing the ball to Jonathan until late in the game, even with the 7,000 baying at him and his comrades to do so.

Not the least of the ironies was that, with Jonathan more or less frozen out, it was Rayer who should have received the loudest cheer of the night when he replaced Ford. Rayer took over at full-back but at least Davies was spared a move to the wing by the obliging Mike Hall and Rayer had cause for gratitude when Davies's passing put him away for the fifth and sixth of Cardiff's nine tries. Davies had only five second-half touches and not a single tackle.

"The difference in league is if you want to get involved you shout for the ball and you get it," Jonathan said. "But I can't come in and say what should and shouldn't be done. It would be insulting of me to do that. But once I have played a few games and settled in, then I can comment." If it carries on like this, one imagines the comment will not be complimentary.

Cardiff: Tries Ring 3, Rayer 2, Ford, Williams, A Davies, A Booth; Conversions A Davies 6. Aberavon: Penalties D Davies 3.

Cardiff: J Davies; S Ford (M Rayer, 42), M Hall, M Ring (M de Maid, 75), N Walker; A Davies (capt), A Booth; A Lewis (P Booth, 73), H Bevan, M Griffiths, J Wakeford, K Stewart, V Davies (C Mills, 58), E Lewis, O Williams.

Aberavon: D Davies; B Grabham, A Bucknell, P Wintle, S Hitchinson; C Laity, G Baber; R Price, M Bernard, A Bevan, P Clapham, S Thomas, B Shenton (capt), R Jones, H Merrett (A Miers, h-t).

Referee: P O'Brien (Oamaru, NZ).

More rugby, page 25

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