Jones overcomes doubts to earn recall

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The Independent Online
RUGBY UNION Robert Jones would have been Wales's scrum-half against South Africa had he been fit, so his recall yesterday for the opening of the Welsh defence of the Five Nations' Trophy in Paris on 21 January can now be seen as entirely predictable.

Or it would have been, had his recent career not been punctuated by uncertainties of form and the doubts of selectors. Jones himself recognised less than two months ago that he might be as low as fourth - behind Rupert Moon, Paul John and Robert Howley -in the pecking-order.

Jones's 49th cap will be his first as first choice for almost two years, after losing his place to Moon the last time Wales were at Parc des Princes. His absence has caused incredulity among the South Africans with whom he played during a summer with Western Province, not to mention a good few others back home who have longed for something more than the scrum-half as ninth forward.

When Jones led the Barbarians to victory over the Springboks in Dublin last month, no further persuasion was needed. "Robert put on a fine performance under the pressure of the Barbarians game to demonstrate he is as good as he used to be," Alan Davies, the Wales coach, said. "We need what Robert can bring to the team, particularly to give Neil Jenkins a bit more space."

Jones actually fancies himself to do rather more than act as a link between the back row, reshaped because of injury with the return of Stuart Davies, Phil Davies, and Jenkins. "I hope I can act as the link-man, but I feel there's more to my game than that," he said.

Jones has had enough disappointments not to let anything surprise him, but said yesterday: "I wasn't particularly confident, and when I got the nod I was as delighted as I have ever been."

Jones for Moon was the one substantive change of four from the team who played the Springboks. Nigel Walker's return to fitness has regained him his spot on the left wing in place of Simon Hill. two other three-quarters, Ieuan Evans and Nigel Davies, expect to be fit to face England on 18 February.

The attrition rate among Welsh back-row forwards has been such that Hemi Taylor and Emyr Lewis are just the latest who could not be considered. On the other hand, Stuart Davies has made a striking comeback for Swansea after two knee operations, and wins his first cap for 15 months.

Phil Davies's inclusion at No 8 is more of an emergency measure, given the injuries and Alan Davies's unwillingness to take a chance on newcomers against France. Andrew Kembery gets as far as the A team, who play France the same day, but there is no place for Craig Quinnell.

Phil Davies has long since regarded himself as a lock, where he played throughout last season's successful championship, and at 20 stone is bound to struggle for the mobility incumbent on the modern loose forward. "Phil would know I was telling a porky-pie if I said I was looking for his development at No 8," Alan Davies said.

With an A team to pick as well, the selection meeting went on for seven hours. Paul John, who might have hoped for selection ahead of Jones in Moon's place, has the consolation of being captain with Diccon Edwards, Leicester's England Under-21 centre, committing himself to the land of his father.

WALES: A Clement (Swansea); W Proctor (Llanelli), M Hall (Cardiff), M Taylor (Pontypool), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), G Llewellyn (Neath, capt), D Jones (Cardiff), S Davies (Swansea), P Davies (Llanelli), R Collins (Pontypridd). Replacements: M Back (Bridgend), R Moon (Llanelli), L Jones (Treorchy), A Copsey, R McBryde (Llanelli), M Griffiths (Cardiff).

WALES A: I Jones (Llanelli); D Manley (Pontypridd), D Edwards (Leicester), S Lewis (Pontypridd), S Hill; A Davies (Cardiff), P John (Pontypridd, capt); I Buckett (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff), H Williams-Jones (Llanelli), G Prosser, M Rowley (Pontypridd), A Kembery (Neath), G Taylor (Pontypool), P Crane (Newbridge). Replacements: G Wilkins (Bridgend), D Evans (Treorchy), R Howley (Bridgend), R Appleyard (Swansea), L Mustoe (Cardiff), B Williams (Neath).

No regrets for Peters, Courage preview, page 43