It gives me no pleasure to write this, but the goalkicker remains the most important member of any international team

ALAN WATKINS ON RUGBY
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The Independent Online
Those who write to me about rugby are almost always polite, both more civil and better informed than those who write to me about politics.

A recent correspondent is no exception. He rebuked me for tipping France to win the Five Nations but nominating Ireland (then at 16-1) as the best bet. All I can do is plead that I was in good company.

No one that I read predicted the revival of Scotland. I was about to add that no one predicted the Welsh revival either. But whether there really is such a new religious movement is another matter. My fellow countrymen have worked themselves up into an extraordinary state of passionate optimism on the strength of a new pair of half-backs, a big, young centre and a running full-back who, against England, did more kicking than running and did not kick especially well.

Nevertheless, it is pleasant to see some cheer about the place. What I hope is that, if Wales do go down to Scotland at Cardiff, there will be no mutterings against Kevin Bowring. I still think his predecessor- but-one, Alan Davies, was treated disgracefully and, from the Welsh team's point of view, unintelligently. Bowring should be made to feel secure up to and through the World Cup.

I am writing before the announcement of the Welsh team, and would expect him to choose the same players who turned out at Twickenham. I should feel happier if there were a place for Neil Jenkins either at inside centre or on the left wing. Whatever the opinions of him as an outside half, he has not let Wales down once as a kicker. Any respectability in their scorelines over the past five years, has been almost entirely due to Jenkins' endeavours.

Arwel Thomas is an exciting player but he is not (or not yet) ready to assume the responsibility of being the principal goal kicker. It gives me no pleasure to write this, but despite - perhaps because of - the changes in the laws, and even with the value of the try increased to five points the goalkicker remains the most important member of any international team. He is even more important than the loose-head prop.

If Paul Grayson had been striking the ball properly at Twickenham, Wales would have been blasted out of the match. There would have been no talk of a Welsh revival then. The scoreline would have given the impression of overwhelming English superiority, despite the equality of two tries for each side. This would have pleased the Twickenham spectators no end. On the whole they were not pleased at all. In the last 10 years - more particularly the last five - an extraordinary change has come over them. They sing God Save The Queen and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot with greater enthusiasm than the Welsh do Hen Wlad Fy Nhaddau or Cwm Rhondda, Sospan Fach being but a dim folk memory, and Diadem completely forgotten.

They cheer the English side loudly, but turn against them rapidly. They turned against them in the Western Samoan match and, though less vociferously, in the Welsh match also. Most observers have misunderstood the booing in the former encounter. It took place only when the kicker was preparing to go for goal. It was directed not at him or the team's previous performance, but at the decision to kick for goal at all in what the crowd (rather insultingly to the Western Samoans) did not consider to be a wholly serious game.

Indeed, the idiot cries of 'run it' are among the distinguishing characteristics of this new, enthusiastic but, in rugby terms, largely ignorant crowd. Wales were loudly applauded for running it when they had no choice as they were 22-15 down. A converted try would have provided them with a win by one point.

Another irritating feature of the Twickenham crowd, is the cheering or booing of the referee's award of a put-in at the scrum. Though there is sometimes room for argument about the way the decision goes, it is usually clear under the - admittedly crazy - laws, of which most Twickenham spectators possess the most rudimentary knowledge, if any at all.

Still, English rugby can only become progressively stronger, because of the power of money, in the professional game. The Welsh RU used to look apprehensively at the temptations offered by Wigan and lesser league clubs. In the future, greater riches will be available from Bath, Leicester, Wasps, Newcastle and Harlequins - who have already signed or are in the process of signing Robert Jones, Gareth Llewellyn and Arwel Thomas. I hope to deal more fully with this movement east across Offa's Dyke in another column.

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