Evans is swept away by the gale

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The wind of change blowing through Welsh rugby was softly spoken when the new management team introduced themselves yesterday at Cardiff Arms Park but that did not make it any less of a hurricane when their preliminary World Cup squad of 32 was announced.

Having led Wales a record 28 times, Ieuan Evans had the captaincy taken from from him and passed inside from wing to centre with the appointment of Mike Hall, the 29-year-old Cardiff captain who has 39 caps compared with Evans' 51.

In addition, four of the team beaten by Ireland three weeks ago and three other members of the previous squad have been discarded as well as the staggering total of 17 of the first preliminary World Cup squad of 32 named last November.

Thus has Alex Evans, Australia's assistant coach at the inaugural World Cup of 1987, left an immediate impression now that he is coach of his adopted country. The choice is an implicitly devastating condemnation of what went before, with Phil Davies, Richie Collins, Nigel Davies and Matthew Back from the most recent XV now out altogether and 10 uncapped players among the 32.

The Queenslander is in his third season as coaching director of Cardiff and has put much of his trust in the players who are about to win the Heineken League: even without Nigel Walker, 13 have made this squad. "While there might seem to be bias there, I can assure you there isn't," Evans said.

In consultation with Geoff Evans, the new manager, and his assistant coaches, Mike Ruddock and Dennis John, Evans will finalise his World Cup party of 26 on Easter Monday and announce it the next day, by which time the injured Walker and Ricky Evans and suspended John Davies will also be in contention, provided they can prove their match-fitness.

The reduction to the ranks of Ieuan Evans, a talismanic figure when Wales were winning the Five Nations' Championship last season, fulfils the perceived need to have as captain someone closer to the crisis-point - though the former captain always rejected the notion that he could not help but be remote.

This view was accepted as long as Alan Davies was coach - though in fact some of Wales' best recent performances came under Gareth Llewellyn's leadership when Evans was injured - and as soon as Davies resigned the symbiotic relationship was ended.

"Wing is an extremely difficult position to captain a side from," Geoff Evans said. "There is no hint of criticism of Ieuan's contribution and his attempts to raise morale but the need to have the direction closer to the action was a major part of the thinking."

Ieuan Evans, 31, was more devastated at his demotion than his magnanimous reaction indicated. "In accepting the decision, I must confirm my commitment not only to Welsh rugby but to the formation of a strong Welsh national side, which is the key priority at this time," he said in a statement. "Mike Hall as the new captain will have my full support."

Hall had done the decent thing by calling in at Evans' office to voice his commiserations and solicit his backing. "He is very upset," Hall said. "You would expect him to be disappointed but I tried to get across to him that we need a fit Ieuan Evans and I need a fit Ieuan Evans helping me."

Alex Evans has nine squad sessions - all in the daytime - planned in the six weeks before Wales leave for South Africa, where they will be in a group that also includes New Zealand, Ireland and Japan. To facilitate the players' availability, the Welsh Rugby Union will shortly be having all their employers out to lunch.

WALES WORLD CUP TRAINING SQUAD: Full-backs: A Clement (Swansea), J Thomas (Cardiff Institute). Wings: I Evans (Llanelli), S Ford (Cardiff), A Harries (Swansea), W Proctor (Llanelli). Centres: M Hall (Cardiff, capt), M Taylor (Pontypool), G Thomas (Bridgend). Outside-halves: A Davies (Cardiff), D Evans (Treorchy), N Jenkins (Pontypridd). Scrum-halves: P John (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea), A Moore (Cardiff). Props: A Dibble (Treorchy), M Griffiths (Cardiff), S John (Llanelli), L Mustoe (Cardiff). Hookers: J Humphreys (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), R McBryde (Llanelli); Locks: D Jones (Cardiff), G O Llewellyn (Neath), G Prosser (Pontypridd), S Roy Cardiff). Back row: M Bennett (Cardiff), S Davies (Swansea), A Gibbs (Newbridge), E Lewis, H Taylor, O Williams (Cardiff).