Evans supports the wider view

The inspirational Welsh wing wants elite players to expand horizons, says Robert Cole in Johannesburg
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The Independent Online
Everyone dreams of what might have been, but just imagine the Llanelli wing Ieuan Evans playing in consistently good Welsh sides. Instead of having 23 tries to his credit from 53 internationals he could have more than doubled that tally.

A few more would not go amiss against Ireland in tomorrow afternoon's vital Pool C World Cup match. If not Evans, then someone must come up with the points to stop Wales sliding to successive early departures from the biggest tournament in the game.

That the man who has scored more Test tries than any other Welshman, and captained his country a record 28 times as well, has never enjoyed the luxury of playing behind dominant packs providing heaps of possession is both a shame, and a flaw in the Welsh game over the last decade.

What Evans wants to see is future generations of Welsh wings being given that privilege. So when he tells you that even if Wales were to win the World Cup it would not cover up the deep-seated problems within the Welsh game, you realise that things must change at home if Wales are to win abroad.

"There are flaws in our system and it is a question of addressing them as soon as possible, however painful an exercise it might be in the short term," Evans said.

"We must make the Welsh international team the most important thing in our game. After all, international rugby is the shop window of the sport and success at the highest level is what everyone now craves.

"Adminstrators, coaches and players have to consider what is best for the future of our national game. A lot of people may suffer as a result, but the elite must be better catered for.

"We cannot afford again to be in the same position as we have found ourselves at the 1991 and 1995 World Cups whereby we are struggling to qualify for the quarter-final stage.

"The 1999 World Cup finals will be hosted by Wales and we owe it to the people of Wales, and the sport itself, to be genuine contenders. The talent is there, but we need a structure that can bring it through to the highest of levels."

One of the best ways of doing that, Evans claims, is to expand the playing horizons of Wales's leading players. At the moment that is happening to only the chosen few, like Robert Jones and Neil Jenkins, who are invited to play abroad in the summer.

The new Five Nations' European Clubs tournament will help to provide more impetus to the process, but what Evans wants to see is a consistently higher grade of rugby being played by an elite band of clubs. Those clubs would then in turn allow their players to concentrate fully on their international preparations and, all of a sudden, the Welsh dragon might rise phoenix- like from the ashes of regular wooden spoons.

"The standard of our domestic rugby, and its insularity, doesn't help our cause at present, but you can't just blame our recent failings on that," Evans said. "Last year's performances, when we captured the Five Nations' title and won 10 of our 13 internationals, were like a breath of fresh air. After that, though, I think complacency crept in and we let ourselves down.

"We all realise that now and we go into a knock-out situation with the Irish in Johannesburg with a chance to make up for some of that complacency.

"It is a game we are good enough to win, but it will come down to a question of whether or not we can match their fire on the day. I think we can and I feel we will win because we are a good side in the making. What we need is more help to become a consistently good team.

"That means everyone in Wales putting the Welsh team on a pedestal and ensuring that everything works towards having a good international side. We need to get the youngsters in Wales looking up to national heroes playing in winning sides.

"We don't need any more finger pointing, just positive help to improve the overall standing of Wales on the international front."