Pressure mounts on Davies

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The Independent Online
Alan Davies, who 12 months ago coached Wales to the Five Nations' Championship, albeit on points difference, could collect the wooden spoon today. If that is the case, the impression in the Principality is that he could use the useless utensil to sup from a poisoned chalice.

While England and Scotland play for crowning glory, Wales and Ireland play for damage limitation although Davies admitted this week that, whatever the result at Cardiff Arms Park, the damage may already have been done. He spoke of getting "the bullet" although the men with their fingers on the triggers could be wearing the blindfolds.

There is no doubt that Wales, and Ireland, have been uninspired and insipid this season - in terms of results they are almost inseparable. Wales: P3, L3, F 31, A 70; Ireland: P3, L3, F 28, A 71. If Wales lose it will be only the second Five Nations whitewash in their history; Ireland face their fifth in 14 years.

The pressure on Davies is all the greater. Wales and Ireland have both been cruelly hit by injuries and neither escaped again for this match. Anthony Clement took a knock in training and withdrew, suggesting a recurrence of the concussion that has kept him out of the championship for all but 11 minutes. He complained of a headache and will have a scan next week. Matthew Back again replaces him.

Whatever the toll, the Welsh would always expect to have a broader base to choose from. Their selection suggests that this is no longer the case. As the campaign has progressed both countries have got worse and what was particularly damaging to Davies in the latest defeat at Murrayfield was the lack of "hwyl." The dragon breathed mouthwash instead of fire.

Davies is culpable to a certain extent but so is the captain, Ieuan Evans. The best performance from Wales this season was in the defeat against South Africa when Gareth Llewellyn led the side in the absence of Evans. But what is really alarming for Wales is not the coaching of Davies nor the captaincy of Evans, but the fact that the factory is working on short time.

One minute Derwyn Jones, the 6ft 10in Cardiff lock, was regarded as the lighthouse for the line-out and the next he is on the rocks. After four caps Jones is replaced by Phil Davies and that is the most blatant admission yet that the production line is not only drying up but is regurgitating old models with knackered engines. Emyr Lewis and Richie Collins would also have gone but for the fact that the selectors cannot think of anyone better.

"I don't think we are blessed with that many alternatives," Robert Norster, the manager, said."We are eggshell-thin in some positions." Ireland share the same breakfast table, not only today but also when they meet again in the World Cup in Johannesburg on 4 June in a match that will probably decide who qualifies with New Zealand out of Group C.

"We are not looking at this," Terry Kingston, the Ireland captain, said of today's game, "as the wooden spoon decider but more of a build-up to the World Cup." Such is the state of flux in Ireland that nobody expected to see Kingston win another cap let alone start leading the country from the splinter group of the spoon into precious metals.

Ireland's pack has been re-shuffled throughout the campaign, principally because of an injury list that stretches from north to south, but the omission of the hooker Keith Wood fell into the Derwyn Jones category, except that Wood could not be accused of lack of aggression. Noel Murphy, the chairman of selectors, finally bit the bullet after the comprehensive defeat by France at Lansdowne Road two weeks ago and dropped Michael Bradley, who is not only his son-in-law but was also the captain. If Bradley did not have a game to remember, Eric Elwood, his stand-off partner, had a game to forget.

"Murphy bitter," was generally the headline after the French game and it had nothing to do with the Cork-based brewery. Murphy pointed out that Ireland were more religious in their following of the amateur code and they would have to adopt a more "professional" approach if they were to compete. "Some people interpreted this as a demand for players to be paid," Murphy said. "It was not. There's not enough money in Irish rugby to sustain professionalism. There is a thin line between success and failure. People get carried away."

Meanwhile, what Alan Davies has to digest over his fragile ego is a daily breakfast intake of his possible successors. There is John Hart, the former All Blacks coach, and the Australian Alex Evans who is in charge of Cardiff, the champion club in waiting. Davies' term ends in July but there is pressure on and within the Welsh Rugby Union to pull the trigger before the World Cup starts in May.

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