Howley has all-clear to face Irish

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The Independent Online
It was a mixed day for Wales, but at least the good news outweighed the bad. Their scrum-half Robert Howley was yesterday passed fit to play against Ireland in Cardiff tomorrow to help maintain Wales' tilt at the Triple Crown. But the flanker Gwyn Jones had to hobble off the Welsh bench after failing to recover from an ankle injury. He is replaced by another Jones - the Ebbw Vale captain, Kingsley.

It was the talented Howley who has had the principality - and the player himself - holding its breath over the last week or so. The 26-year-old had fallen awkwardly on his left shoulder in training last Tuesday. Reports on his progress were conflicting at best, worrying at worst.

However, after a rigorous, solitary work-out in chilly Cardiff, a session which lasted for 30 gruelling minutes, followed by a rugged training session which lasted a further 90 minutes, Howley emerged from it all and declared that he would be fit enough to face Ireland.

"I had a run-out at 1 o'clock," explained Howley, who will be winning his 14th cap tomorrow, an unbroken run since his try-scoring debut against England at Twickenham last year.

"I did a lot of work with the tackle bag and tackle shield and lots of dive passing to prove to myself and the management that my shoulder could take it.

"It's been a worrying 10 days. I was doubtful when I first did it, then I became more confident when I had had some treatment. But over the weekend the improvement wasn't as noticeable. However, the medical staff have been great and now I am looking forward to Saturday. I certainly wouldn't be playing if I had any qualms about the injury. I'm thankful to the team management that they extended the deadline for my decision from the original one of Tuesday. It's come on in leaps and bounds in those two extra days they gave me."

Ireland have not lost in Cardiff since 1983. Wales want to set up some kind of a roll after their magnificent efforts against Scotland in Edinburgh a fortnight ago. It was therefore important to their coach, Kevin Bowring, that he had a minimum of disruption to his preparations. The poor man has not had the luxury of fielding an unchanged team for the last 12 matches. Having already lost the services of centre Allan Bateman with a knee injury earlier this week, the last thing Bowring and Wales needed was for Howley, a favourite to make the Lions tour to South Africa in May, to pull out.

Bowring said: "Scrum-half is an important position. One of Rob's strengths under the new laws is that he poses a threat at the base of the scrum, which ties the opposition in. We are on a long learning curve and Rob's fitness is important to our continuity."

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