Rugby League: Wales will struggle to rewrite history

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HISTORY and time are against Wales as they strive for only their third victory in France tomorrow. Two previous wins - in 1936 and 1970, when the present team manager, Jim Mills, played in the front row - in 18 attempts give a clue to the struggle Wales could face in Perpignan without a crowd behind them. It will be a very different proposition from last season in Swansea, when Wales won 35-6.

It is not only the atmosphere of Vetch Field that will be lacking. Wales will also be without three players who are among their most effective at this level - Jonathan Davies, Jonathan Griffiths and Mark Jones. The side has a patched-up appearance, with the fitness of a number of players giving concern. The long-term worry is that it is also an ageing combination which will be considerably less credible next season than this.

Wales desperately need some new blood. The problem is that, as money has got tighter in rugby league, the inducements to stay in South Wales have caught up with what is on offer to change codes. Of tomorrow's team, Phil Ford, Gary Pearce, David Bishop and Robert Ackerman are all over 30. The three matches in Swansea since the national team was re- formed have been memorable occasions; Perpignan looks uncomfortably like a swan-song.

An unknown player from the rugby league backwater of Perth, Western Australia, takes over one of the most distinguished shirts in the game for Leeds at Sheffield tomorrow. Carl Gigg was born in Leeds but has played most of his rugby in Perth. He has the formidable task of standing in for the Great Britain captain, Garry Schofield.

'Carl is a very steady, reliable player who has won a number of awards in Western Australia, which is a good sign even though the standard isn't very high,' Doug Laughton, the Leeds coach who has an otherwise full-strength side, said.

Laughton is unhappy about the circumstances of Schofield's hamstring injury in the final seconds of England's match against Wales two weeks ago. 'It was a match he should not have been playing in,' he said. 'He was not able to train in the week leading up to the match because of hamstring trouble.'

Sheffield had good news yesterday when a X-ray revealed that their captain and Great Britain regular, Daryl Powell, has not broken a bone in his wrist as was feared. Powell was facing a three- month lay-off, but instead has gone back into the side to play Leeds.

The key matches elsewhere tomorrow have a vital bearing on the bottom of the First Division and the top of the second.

Leigh will climb above Hull KR at the foot of the first if they can beat them at home. They are likely to be without their powerful Tongan prop, Lee Hansen. David Liddiard, the experienced Australian, is in line to make his first full appearance for Rovers, who also hope that Dean Clark, the New Zealand stand-off, will recover from his journey this week in time to be considered.

In the Second Division, Oldham will overtake the leaders, Featherstone Rovers, if they win at Post Office Road. The Oldham coach, Peter Tunks, took his side to see Featherstone play St Helens in the Regal Trophy last week. He came away far from discouraged, but Rovers' incisive backs should give them the edge at home.

FRANCE: Frisson (Villefranche); Sirvent (St Gaudens), Chamorin (St Esteve), Fages (Pia), Garcia (St Esteve); Dumas (St Gaudens), Demacedo (Avignon); Buttignol (Avignon), Torreilles (Pia), Llong (Catalan), Cabestany (Catalan), Clark (Cannes), Tisseyre (Carcassone). Substitutes: Pech (Limoux), Grandjean (Lezignan), Alesina (Catalan), Despin (Villeneuve).

WALES: Ford (Salford); Hadley (Widnes), Bateman (Warrington), Devereux (Widnes), Sullivan (St Helens); Pearce (Ryedale-York), Ellis (Warrington); Young (Salford, capt), Bishop (London Crusaders), Marlow (Hull), Moriarty (Widnes), Phillips (Warrington), Ackerman (Salford). Substitutes: Stevens (Hull), Moran (Leigh), Kennett (Swinton), Williams (Salford). Travelling reserve: Reynolds (Rochdale Hornets).