Rugby League: Skerrett puts accent on Welsh optimism

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

DAVE HADFIELD

It says much about the contemporary Welsh approach that the side to play England in the semi-final of the Centenary World Cup today stayed in the Principality until the last possible moment.

Wales messed up the organisers' arrangements by staying in Cardiff and only coming north yesterday afternoon. It is no coincidence that they chose to do it that way; there has rarely been a team which draws so deeply on national identity.

It is all the more remarkable that this should be the case for a side containing several "Anglos". Regardless of what happens at Old Trafford this afternoon, the in-comers have proved that Welshness lies in what you do on the field, not in your accent.

Two English-born players provide a vivid illustration of that. Iestyn Harris, Oldham-bred despite his first name, has been one of the stars of the tournament so far and would have the choice of a couple of positions if he had opted for the land of his birth rather than the land of his fathers.

Kelvin Skerrett is as Welsh as Yorkshire pudding, but has the happy knack of producing precisely what his adopted country requires of him. Against France he inflicted damage carrying the ball. Against Western Samoa, when something different was needed, he increased his tackle count and still did untold damage in possession, setting the tone for an inspired forward effort that won the match and sent Wales into the semi-finals brimming with confidence.

"We feel unstoppable now," is how their team manager, Mike Nicholas, describes their state of mind. The question is whether they can translate that mood from South Wales to the north of England. Their best work has been done on home turf, but they won the European Championship by beating France in Carcassonne last season.

Clive Griffiths, the Welsh coach, was able to name Scott Gibbs and John Devereux in his side after fitness tests yesterday.

The England coach, Phil Larder, and two of his Keighley players, Nick Pinkney and Daryl Powell, heard that their club came within an hour of a winding-up order from a former director yesterday. They will have put that worry out of their minds, but Pinkney is England's one unknown quantity at this level.

The 24-year-old centre has abundant pace and his try-scoring record is impressive. It is almost entirely compiled against moderate opposition, however, his two good tries against South Africa not withstanding.

A more pressing concern could be the confidence or otherwise of Martin Offiah. England need him to rediscover his old swagger, especially as Wales have one of the most effective wingers of the tournament so far in Anthony Sullivan.

Larder has decided against including Gary Connolly among his substitutes following his recovery from pneumonia.

There are those who would have started with Tony Smith rather than having him on the bench. If Powell can do a typically solid job on Jonathan Davies for the first hour but England still need a breakthrough, Smith, with his extra speed, could be the man to provide it.

The general key to an English success is the superior mobility and tactical acumen of their forwards. If they can get out of the trenches long enough to use those qualities, they will win.

ENGLAND v WALES

at Old Trafford

Radlinski Wigan 1 Harris Warrington

Robinson Wigan 2 Devereux Widnes

Pinkney Keighley 3 Gibbs St Helens

Newlove Bradford 4 Bateman Cronulla

Offiah Wigan 5 Sullivan St Helens

Powell Keighley 6 Davies Warrington, capt

Goulding St Helens 7 Ellis N Queensland Cowboys

Harrison Halifax 8 Skerrett Wigan

Jackson Sheffield 9 Hall Wigan

Platt Auckland 10 Young Salford

Betts Auckland, capt 11 Moriarty Halifax

Clarke Sydney City 12 Quinnell Wigan

Farrell Northampton 13 Eyres Leeds

Referee: E Ward (Australia) Kick-off: 3pm BBC1

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