Rugby Union: A tale of two teams

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The Independent Online
ONE of the most interesting rugby teams selected this year have yet to play a match. They are the Welsh XV chosen by the Premier Division's managers and coaches last May, at the very end of the season, some days after the Cup final between Swansea and Llanelli. The composition did not appear in many newspapers. So I make no apology for reproducing it here:

A Clement (Swansea); M Titley (Swansea), R Bidgood (Newport), S Gibbs (Swansea), W Proctor (Llanelli); A Williams (Swansea), R Moon (Llanelli); R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), L Mustoe (Pontypool), A Copsey (Llanelli), P Kawulok (Cardiff), E Lewis (Llanelli), S Davies (Swansea), R Webster (Swansea).

The team differ in numerous positions from the one that Alan Davies has chosen to play an Italian XV tomorrow. They are called a Welsh XV - it is not a full international - but they amount to the Welsh side who ended last season with four points, on an equality with France and Scotland.

Accordingly Ieuan Evans is preferred to Mark Titley, Mike Hall to Wayne Proctor, Colin Stephens to Aled Williams, Robert Jones to Rupert Moon, Mike Griffiths to Mickey Evans, Huw Williams-Jones to Lindon Mustoe and Gareth Llewellyn to Paul Kawulok (who has been playing at No 6 for Cardiff this season, though he is in the international squad as a lock still).

Two of the coaches' players, Titley and Williams, are not even in the large squad. It may be that Titley, gifted player though he is, is thought to be too old at 33 - though the incomparable Gerald Davies went on for longer. As for Williams, I do not want to become a bore on the subject, but manifestly the outside-half position should be contested by him and Adrian Davies (who, however, is in the squad).

I do not take sides in the great Jones-Moon controversy. But I do think a place should eventually be found in the national side for Simon Davies, of Swansea, at left-wing and for Alan Reynolds, of the same club, at No 7.

Loyalty is an admirable quality, and provides one reason why the players are so attached to Davies as manager. But I cannot help feeling that with the Italian match he has let slip a valuable opportunity to experiment.

England have no such need. With Rory Underwood's not totally unexpected return, they are in a position to carry on with a winning side. After the alarms at the end of last season, only two places need to be filled: those of Simon Halliday on the right- wing and of Micky Skinner at No 6.

The selectors seem to have decided that Ian Hunter, of Northampton, is to be turned into a wing. This is, I think, an error, not only because a successor to Jonathan Webb will shortly have to be found (for this must be Webb's last international season) but also because the second best wing in England, whether on the right or the left, is Underwood junior. Playing on the right for the Barbarians against the All Blacks some seasons ago, he was the outstanding back in his side. Since then he has suffered bad luck with injuries: but his ability has, if anything, increased.

Among the forwards, one problem is whether Jason Leonard is fit or match-practised enough to return and, if not, who is to replace him. Martin Hynes, of Orrell, does not seem altogether the ideal substitute, not least because of his disposition to give away unnecessary penalties.

Martin Bayfield and Wade Dooley appear to be settled as a second row. The great debate concerns the back row, particularly the No 6 and No 8 positions. With Mike Teague making an unlikely return for Moseley, I should have thought there would be no dispute about the line-up. It would be the old firm of Teague, Dean Richards and Peter Winterbottom.

The selectors do not view matters so simply. Tim Rodber and Ben Clarke also enter their calculations. There are two favoured combinations: Rodber, Teague and Winterbottom or Teague, Clarke and Winterbottom.

And either way, poor old Richards is left on the substitutes' bench. This would be not only a pity from his point of view but a mistake from England's. He remains the most inspirational forward in these entire islands, who can turn a match on his own - as he showed when he came on against Scotland last season. Richards should stay.