Rugby Union: Arwel out as Bowring reshuffles

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The Independent Online
THERE'S gratitude for you. Kevin Bowring, the Welsh national coach, has repaid Arwel Thomas for his match-winning performance against Scotland by blowing him out of the squad for the Dragons' next Five Nations encounter in Dublin tomorrow week. Given that the gloriously unpredictable Swansea stand-off saved Bowring's bacon at Wembley six days ago, he must be feeling just a little non-plussed by the latest turn of events.

Neil Jenkins, whose early departure from the Scottish fray proved once and for all that a timely smack over the left eyebrow can be a better career move than 11 points with the boot and a try-scoring pass, reclaims the No 10 shirt while Byron Hayward, the outside-half from Ebbw Vale, is on the bench. One further change sees Stuart Davies, the in-form Swansea No 8, replace Scott Quinnell among the replacements.

"Control is extremely important and both Byron and Stuart provide that element," said Bowring by way of explanation. He did not mention class, vision or consummate footballing skills, all of which are habitually provided by both Thomas and Quinnell. Pragmatic, yes, but whatever happened to the spirit of adventure?

At least Clive Woodward is backing himself to take a few calculated risks and push back the boundaries of Test selection. The England coach named a 27-man squad for the Calcutta Cup confrontation with the Scots in Edinburgh on Sunday week and while two Newcastle veterans, Tony Underwood and Dean Ryan, earned themselves unexpected recalls, the presence of their teenage clubmate, Jon Wilkinson, created more of a stir.

The 18-year-old outside-half has featured amongst the England elite before but, this time, he is one of only two goal-kickers in the party. There was no word from Woodward on the potential make-up of his final 22-man squad but it is possible that despite his almost complete lack of Premiership experience, Wilkinson will sit on the Murrayfield bench as cover for Paul Grayson.

Ryan's promotion, just reward for some uncompromising in-your-face displays over recent weeks, may be strictly temporary; both Tony Diprose and Tim Rodber are ahead of the Newcastle captain in the race to fill the back- row gap left by the injured Richard Hill.

On the political front, Fran Cotton, vice-chairman of the Rugby Football Union management board, yesterday issued a passionate defence of the "Club England" document that has sent the owners of the leading Premiership outfits into paroxysms of unrestrained fury. "There are a great deal of common objectives between us and they need to be discussed," he said. "It is not my intention to see the clubs go out of business.''

Cotton did, however, reassert his plan to sign all leading players on RFU contracts and that, in itself, guaranteed a prolonged punch-up between two deeply entrenched sides. "The tanks are lined up on the battlefield but we can still reach a solution before the shelling starts," he insisted. A wonderful thing, optimism.

ENGLAND PRELIMINARY SQUAD (Five Nations' Championship v Scotland, Murrayfield, 22 March): Backs: M Perry (Bath), I Balshaw (Bath), D Rees (Sale), A Healey (Leicester), T Underwood (Newcastle), M Greenwood (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), P de Glanville (Bath), P Grayson (Northampton), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), K Bracken (Saracens), M Dawson (Northampton), S Benton (Gloucester). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), G Rowntree (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), P Vickery (Gloucester), R Cockerill (Leicester), D West (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), D Grewcock (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), A Diprose (Saracens), D Ryan (Newcastle), N Back (Leicester).

WALES TEAM (v Ireland, Dublin, 21 March): K Morgan (Pontypridd); W Proctor (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), G Thomas (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff); A Lewis (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), R Appleyard (Swansea), K Jones (Ebbw Vale), C Charvis (Swansea). Replacements: L Davies (Cardiff), B Hayward (Ebbw Vale), P John (Pontypridd), S Davies (Swansea), S Roy (Pontypridd), L Mustoe (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff).