GRAHAM HENRY has not shirked a single tough decision - and he has had plenty of those - since taking over as the Wales coach 14 months ago. But when he sits down to select his team for the World Cup opener against Argentina on 1 October he faces one of his most difficult posers to date. Can he afford to leave out Allan Bateman?
The Northampton centre yesterday used his chance, albeit out on the left wing against an outclassed United States team, to give Henry plenty of food for thought.
Mark Taylor is the man in possession of the Wales outside-centre place and is a player in prime form, but on this evidence Bateman is a class act.
Even allowing for the level of the opposition - the Eagles were abrasive but had precious little else of substance - Bateman provided a compelling case for a threequarter starting place against the Pumas.
His two first-half tries put the skids under an Eagles team still hurting from the century-plus points pounding taken from a full-strength England, and by the end his hat-trick of tries and all-round play had adorned this uncapped contest that still drew a Bank Holiday crowd of 35,000.
Wales, after eight successive victories in full internationals, are certainly on a roll and although yesterday's squad had eight players from outside the World Cup party, the winning habit is proving infectious.
As an exercise in examining what strength and depth he has outside his first-choice team, the coach took the opportunity to give all 22 on duty a taste of the special atmosphere of the stadium where the World Cup opening ceremony will be held.
Nick Walne certainly gives Wales a wing alternative, the front-row resources are in a healthy state and the back-up full-back, Neil Boobyer, joined in the try feast, unselfishly forfeiting his own hat-trick to provide Bateman with his third.
The Llanelli youngster Stephen Jones was entrusted with the goal-kicking duties in the absence of Neil Jenkins. He got his side off the mark with the only penalty goal kick they attempted all afternoon and went on to add five conversions to Wales's eight tries.
It was no surprise that Bateman got the ball rolling, punishing the visitors when they mis-touched by running it back at them. Boobyer then got the next two, the first an absolute gem after great work by Hywel Jenkins, Leigh Davies, Bateman and Jones. Bateman then blasted his way through a succession of tacklers for a score that had the crowd in raptures.
With replacements coming and going thick and fast, the scrum-half David Llewellyn got the first two of the second half, Bateman completing his three before flanker Geraint Lewis completed the demolition job.
Wales XV: Tries Bateman 3, Boobyer 2, Llewellyn 2, Lewis; Conversions S Jones 5; Penalty goal S Jones. United States: Tries Shuman, Takau, Grobler; Conversions M Williams 2, Dalzell; Penalty goal M Williams.
WALES XV: N Boobyer (Llanelli); N Walne (Cardiff), A Marinos (Newport), L Davies (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton); S Jones (Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Newport); A Lewis (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff), B Evans (Swansea) G Llewellyn (NEC Harlequins), M Voyle (Llanelli), G Lewis (Pontypridd), M Williams (Cardiff, Capt), H Jenkins (Llanelli). Replacements: A Moore (Swansea) for Voyle, 46; T Maulin (Swansea) for Jenkins, 62; M Robinson (Swansea) for Marinos, 67; A Thomas (Swansea )for Davies, 67; C Anthony (Swansea) for Evans, 72; D Morris (Swansea) for Humphreys, 76; G Cooper (Bath) for Llewellyn, 78.
UNITED STATES XV: K Shuman (Oxford Univ); S Uiagalelei (Orange Co), J Grobler (Denver), T Takau (Aspen), B Hightower (Aspen); M Williams (Aspen) K Dalzell (OMBAC); G Sucher (Washington), T Billups (Pontypridd), R Lehner (Old Blues), L Gross (Rovigo), A Parker (Aspen), D Hodges (Llanelli), R Lumkong (Denver), D Lyle (Bath, Capt). Replacements: R Schurfeld (Michigan) for Uiagalelei, 48; F Mounga (Old Blues) for Parker, 63; S Paga (Univ of California) for Sucher, 68; D Stroble (Maison Lafitte) for Williams, 73; M L'Huillier (Sydney Univ) for Lumkong, 76; K Khasigian (Univ of California) for Billups, 76.
Referee: B Campsall (RFU).Reuse content