Lightweight Wales need Davies

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The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

reports from Cardiff Arms Park

Wales 19 Fiji 15

The cry for Jonathan Davies to get his act together in time for the Five Nations' Championship grew in intensity following a result for Wales that was welcome and overdue yet somehow without honour. Not so much a Pyrrhic victory as chronic.

Nobody is harder on Wales than the Welsh and it is a fair bet that the noisy majority in a crowd of 39,000 thought that Fiji deserved to win and were actually willing them to do so. It is a measure of the state of the nation that Brad Johnstone, Fiji's New Zealand coach, had more sympathy for Wales than for his adopted country.

"It's a shocking thing," he said, "but last week, people, Welsh people, were coming up to us in the street and telling us that they wanted Fiji to win. This is not the Wales that I knew. It seems to have reached the point where nationalism is breaking down."

Wales looked lightweight and disjointed but there were mitigating circumstances, not least the fact that this was only their second win from nine internationals this year. In that context Kevin Bowring, their third coach in six matches, and Jonathan Humphreys, the captain, were entitled to their pragmatic view.

"When you score more points than the opposition you win," Bowring said. "We deserved it. How many times did we cross their line and not score? We could have been 20 points up in the first 20 minutes." Humphreys agreed: "I don't think any win can be described as lucky, especially against a side like Fiji who are underrated. We desperately needed a victory. Nine of our team were playing at the Arms Park for the first time and that's a daunting experience."

Time was when playing at Cardiff was a daunting experience for the opposition. Once again Wales relied on Neil Jenkins's boot, his three penalties in the second half overriding a second try from Fiji. Wales were 10-0 up after 16 minutes, courtesy of two tries that came wrapped in Christmas paper.

Andy Moore, the scrum-half, dived into a disrupted Fijian scrum for the first and then Jenkins exploited the naivety of Fiji with rugby's equivalent of the three-card trick. Awarded a dubious penalty near the Fiji 22, Jenkins fooled the opposition into thinking he was going to kick for goal and instead tapped the ball to himself and strolled over for a try that was even softer than Moore's. The nearest player to Jenkins was the No 8 Dan Rouse and he was tying his bootlaces as the outside-half ran past him.

Thereafter Wales operated on a shoestring and Fiji, who had drawn level by half-time, failed to capitalise on several sublime moves which had all but exhausted the Welsh defence. "Never before," Johnstone said, "has a Fiji test team finished stronger than the opposition." Apart from squandering a number of tries they were again hopeless in the goalkicking department. Thus Jenkins's contribution proved invaluable but, it seems that outside of Pontypridd, the nation cannot wait for the return of Jonathan.

It may be a long wait. Frustratingly for Jenkins, and Wales, he was moved to centre midway through the first half to replace the injured Nigel Davies with Aled Williams coming on at stand-off. Wales therefore had two outside-halves for most of the game although there are those who would argue that it looked as if they did not have one.

Jenkins, his 14 points apart, made mistakes but, significantly perhaps, both Bowring and Humphreys gave the impression that if it came down to a Neil v Jonathan contest they would be in the former's corner. "I have every respect for Neil Jenkins as a player and as an outside-half," Bowring said. He added, curiously: "He is a passionate Welshman." Perhaps this was a reference to the fact that Jenkins, a target for rugby league, has remained loyal to the union. As for Humphreys, he described him as "world class".

"We have a very inexperienced pack but we have a side we can build on," the Cardiff hooker said. So, will Bowring, a teacher at Clifton College, continue to coach Wales? "What happens after this is up to the WRU," he said. "I've got a taste for it, I must admit."

Wales: Tries Moore, Jenkins; Penalties Jenkins 3. Fiji: Tries Bari, Rayasi. Conversion Waqa; Penalty: Waqa.

WALES: J Thomas (Llanelli); I Evans (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bridgend), N Davies (Llanelli), W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), A Moore (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), L Mustoe (Cardiff), A Moore (Swansea), D Jones (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Llanelli), H Taylor (Cardiff), M Bennett (Cardiff). Replacement: A Williams (Swansea) for Davies 23 mins.

FIJI: F Rayasi (King Country); P Bale (Canterbury), S Sorovaki (Wellington), L Little (King Country), M Bari (Tavua); J Waqa (Nadroga), J Rauluni (Easts); J Veitayaki (King Country, capt), G Smith (Waikato), E Natuivau (Suva), A Nadolo (Suva), E Katalau (Poverty Bay), I Tawake (Nadroga), D Rouse (Nadi), T Tamanivalu (Brothers). Replacement: R Bogisa (Nadi) for Waqa 40 mins.

Referee: P O'Brien(New Zealand).

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