Evans sent man of Cardiff

Owen Slot talks to Terry Holmes about his new life in a legend's shadow
WHEN Cardiff run out at Lansdowne Road to play Leinster on Saturday in the first ever Heineken European Cup semi-final, it is not just the fixture that will be breaking new ground. In the crowd will sit Terry Holmes, the former Wales scrum-half, who will be reaching another landmark: his first full official week as their coach.

The announcement that Holmes was to take charge of the club where he won his 26 caps was a muted one. No one at the small press conference was the slightest bit surprised, for even though Holmes had already been coaching Cardiff for the two weeks since Alex Evans, his predecessor, had departed, it seemed that he had been groomed for the job for over three years.

When Evans arrived in 1992, his intention was to build a structure at Cardiff that would outlast him and one of his first moves was to employ Holmes as his assistant. "Alex did a fantastic job," Holmes said, "and for me it was just like being on an extended coaching course."

Holmes's apprenticeship has been wound down in the last two months following the news that Evans was to leave and as the departure date approached, Evans shrunk into the background and pushed the younger man forward. The players should hardly have noticed the change, Holmes insists, acknowledging that it is an impressive act he has to emulate: "I followed Gareth Edwards into the Wales team, so I've followed legends before."

Holmes, of course, became something of a legend himself, a point not lost on his charges, said Jonathan Humphries, the Welsh captain and Cardiff hooker: "Most of us watched him when we grew up - personally, I was of the opinion that he carried the rest of the team. He was our hero. We don't tell him that, but there's no doubt that when he talks, we listen."

The changes under Holmes should therefore be minimal. He preaches a similar game to Evans and, also in his predecessor's style, he refrains from sending his players into the fray with a set plan, believing that they will improve if they learn to think victory through for themselves. Where Cardiff might be a different place, though, is in team selection: Evans used a rota system and was criticised for defeats incurred when the strongest XV was perhaps not fielded. Holmes, instead, intends to increase the competitive spirit by making his players fight for the 15 positions.

Not that any extra incentive will be needed on Saturday. "A lot of people have been putting Welsh rugby down, saying it's rotten right through," Humphries said. "This is a chance to show that's not the case." Cardiff qualified by way of a draw with Begles and a win over Ulster, games which were "a breath of fresh air" says Humphries.

"In Wales, the clubs know each other so well, it's become easy to stop each other playing," he said. "But the new competition has been brilliant so far; everybody has noticed the difference, I don't think it's a coincidence that the best rugby we have played this season has been in those games. I just hope it will be the same against Leinster."