Players defend the Welsh coach

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The Independent Online
Wales's two most experienced and distinguished current internationals yesterday came to the aid of Alan Davies as Davies's tenure as Wales coach grew increasingly precarious, writes Steve Bale. He has already said he expects "the bullet" if his team lose to Ireland in Cardiff tomorrow.

But it now appears that Davies may not survive whatever the result - which would have the extraordinary corollary of sending Wales into the World Cup with a brand-new coach, appointed barely two months before the tournament kicks off. If Davies goes, it is anticipated his assistant, Gareth Jenkins, will return to Llanelli.

Over the past week Alex Evans, the Australian who has guided Cardiff to the brink of the Welsh championship, has been persistently touted as a coaching successor, and John Hart, the former New Zealand and Auckland coach, is another reported to have been sounded out.

As for the players, they backed Davies before after Wales had been summarily dismissed from the 1991 World Cup and persuaded him to agree to extend what had been a temporary appointment.

And they do so again despite Wales's fall from grace from being last season's champions to being contenders with the Irish for this season's wooden spoon. If Wales lose, it will be only the second Five Nations whitewash in their history.

"When we won the championship last year Alan was coach of the year," Ieuan Evans, the Wales captain, said. "Just as we haven't become a bad side, so Alan hasn't become a bad coach. The pressure on Alan has not been deflected on to the players. It's important we stick together as a team."

Evans has 50 caps and Robert Jones, the scrum-half, 53. Jones added: "Everyone is aware of the pressure Alan is under. The players are still very much behind him.

"He has prepared us in the right way and to some extent it is the players who have let him down. I've heard people say he should go now but to drop him before the World Cup would be a crazy decision. We're going out to win for a number of reasons - and one of them is for the management."

Davies, once the England B coach, has passed this way before. It was widely assumed before Wales played Scotland at the Arms Park last season that he would cease to be coach in the event of a defeat. Wales won 29- 6 and went on to win the championship.

n Newport's Canadian outside-half, Gareth Rees, has been suspended by the Welsh Rugby Union for four weeks after being sent off for fighting during his club's game at Swansea last month.