Hearts pine for absent friend

Clem Thomas at Cardiff Arms Park sees Wales in need of the Davies factor
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The Independent Online
THE people of Wales, desperate for new heroes, were yesterday dreaming of Jonathan Davies returning to breathe new life into a team which had lost eight of their previous nine games. The prodigal, however, had returned to the north of England to avoid giving any embarrassment to those masquerading in his place, and left it to the Fijians to humiliate a Welsh team who, despite winning 19-15, did so with a dire performance that lacked conviction.

Davies's emotional and physical state at the end of the rugby league World Cup semi-final against England clearly illustrated that his battery is running down a little faster these days. He will not come back into the Welsh union side as the detonating fly-half he once was, exploding from set pieces to create tries that were never really on. If he does come back it will surely be only as a playmaker, along the lines of Paul Turner for Sale or Mark Ring for Cardiff.

Davies's real value will be as a member of the Welsh squad as an adviser and talent-spotter, where he can use his vast experience to influence Welsh selection. Wales must not expect too much of a man who has already played his part on the rugby stage to perfection and has given us some marvellous memories.

That influence is sorely needed, for although defeat against Fiji was unthinkable - they have won only one game against a major IRB country, when they beat Argentina in the 1987 World Cup - Wales almost succumbed to a side nowadays seen as the entertainers of world rugby, a sort of Harlem Globetrotters, more concerned with sevens tournaments than the nitty-gritty of 15-a-side rugby.

Yesterday they put Wales on the rack of their tremendously inventive play after appearing bedraggled and crestfallen at the start in rain- drenched Cardiff. Consequently, Wales, perhaps smarting from being branded as boozers by the departing Australian coach Alex Evans, began with some vigour which brought two early tries and their only real attacking contribution.

Gradually their confidence evaporated as the fierce Fijians fought back with far more positive and inventive play, which at times was breathtaking. With only a little more steadiness and discipline by their forwards, Fiji could have won the game. One magic moment just before half-time epitomised Fiji when Rayasi, who won the pounds 500 CIS man of the match award, launched an astonishing counter-attack from his own 22. He lobbed a pass to Soravi, who found the lock Katalau running like a centre, only for the scoring pass to be knocked on by Tawake.

Wales can be far from happy with such a performance and surely this can be nothing like the team which should play in the Five Nations' tournament. It is obvious that the Welsh selectors have learned nothing from last season, and to leave a player of the quality of Robert Jones out of their squad shows the extent of their madness.