It is safe to assume that even the most myopic Englishman thrilled to the extent of Thomas's daring and imagination

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The Independent Online
It has been a habit of this column to honour, as people used to put it, "the ball artist'', the team games players in all their variety who never flinch from the notion that sport should be entertaining.

Anyone who was at Twickenham last Saturday or watched the game on television, could not have failed to see this in a succession of impudent ruses employed by the excitingly talented young Welsh stand-off, Arwel Thomas.

Annoyingly, if predictably, some coaches and critics have since found fault with Thomas on the grounds that the risks he takes are sure to bring more sorrow than satisfaction.

This can only be described as loose thinking. Like most onlookers, I have not questioned many experts but it is safe to assume the audience generally, even the most myopic Englishman, thrilled to the extent of Thomas's daring and imagination.

As for the proposition that Thomas was merely indulging a gift from the womb, a fascinating possibility is that he was taking affirmative action, going beyond what his intelligence would normally permit in order to make a statement about modern rugby.

Some people involved directly with the game, and football for that matter, may be sensing with disfavour the sort of philosophy I seem to be encouraging. If so they should pay attention to remarks made this week by the RFU's technical director, Don Rutherford, as reported on these pages by my colleague, Steve Bale. Perhaps it was a healthy respect for shifts in public sentiment that prompted Rutherford to call for a more expansive attitude. ''People want to be entertained, and just winning is not acceptable,'' he said. ''The England players have to take that aboard.'' I am thinking now about a statement Sir Matt Busby made many years ago when advances in fitness, team organisation and planning had begun to make football less of a spectacle. ''There is too much 'mind', coming into the game,'' he said.

That is only one example that occurs to me among scores of muttered protests over the way sport has progressed since Busby's time.

Of course, there has to be a balance between flair and effectiveness. All the truly great players achieve it. Trouble is that it takes time for arguments to straighten themselves out and people come to take up one of two positions, which won't necessarily be closer to the truth because they have been oversimplified.

Not so long ago, on radio and in a book, it was suggested that contemporary ideals have prevented some highly skilled English footballers, Frank Worthington, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh and Peter Osgood for example, from fulfilling their potential internationally. A personal point of view is that while great entertainers they were all unreliable. The characteristic they shared was self-indulgence.

You only have to ponder this for a moment to understand the doubts that exist about Arwel Thomas. Is he touched with genius or a luxury?

My own feeling, which nobody is required to share, is that Welsh rugby authorities should give him every encouragement. In the meantime the best - indeed, the essential - thing to hope as rugby tussles with the urgent problems of professionalism, is that entertainment will figure prominently on the agenda.

The hard rule in these things, and very hard indeed for some administrators to accept, is that no game has a guaranteed future. Winning will do but it is not everything.

What sport can always do with is a touch of wizardry. Used alliteratively, in a headline the word was once used to describe the Welsh footballers who had combined to defeat England at Ninian Park, Cardiff. Eleven Welsh wizards they were called.

Nobody in the popular prints to my knowledge used it to describe Thomas. Maybe it has gone out of fashion. On the other hand it may not have been thought appropriate.

Deferred judgement. Wait and see what the next match brings. He did not do enough, some have said, to justify suggestions of exceptional promise. Enough though to remind us that there should be more in the modern playing of games than power, pace, endurance and strategy.

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