Rugby Union: Big four dominate Welsh tourists

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The Independent Online
THE GREAT and good of the Welsh Rugby Union have yet to complete their deliberations on the make-up of next season's "super club" quartet, which is no great surprise given that WRU conclusions come around about as frequently as Test victories over the All Blacks: on average, one every 46 years. A strong power base is beginning to emerge in the principality, however.

Twenty-nine of the 37 players selected for this summer's World Cup shakedown in Argentina come from Cardiff, Llanelli, Pontypridd and Swansea - a concentration of talent that mirrors Graham Henry's vision of a new dawn for Wales.

Assuming Shane Howarth and Craig Quinnell, two of Henry's most prominent performers in the Five Nations' Championship, complete their widely touted moves to Cardiff and Ponty respectively, only five tourists will come from outside the big four. The coach's blueprint, which requires the best Welsh players to be contracted to the best Welsh clubs and exposed to the best Welsh and cross-border competitions, is being followed almost to the letter.

Henry had toyed with the idea of giving a handful of up-and-comers, including Gareth Cooper of Bath and Alex Popham of Newport, a first taste of life on the Pampas, but World Cup imperatives intervened. His first tour squad is particularly strong at centre and loose forward and the New Zealander has armed himself with six props, a smart move considering the Pumas' reputation for scrummaging the pants off visiting packs.

Three uncapped players have made the cut: the Swansea scrum-half Rhodri Jones, the Newcastle back-rower Richard Arnold and the Llanelli open-side flanker Ian Boobyer. There is a recall for Arwel Thomas, the most naturally gifted Welsh stand-off for a generation, and big opportunities for two tight forwards whose careers have been blighted by injury, Jonathan Humphreys, the Cardiff hooker, and Andy Moore, the Swansea lock. The most-capped Welsh second row of them all, Gareth Llewellyn, may yet be added if a broken arm rules out Pontypridd's Ian Gough.

Wales are scheduled to play two Tests in Buenos Aires, on 5 and 12 June, and have also signed up for an adventurous trek into the badlands of Tucuman, where men are men and rugby-playing guests tend to get pelted with anything that comes to hand. It will be a tough ask for a Welsh side weighed down by the psychological baggage of so many ill-disciplined and unsuccessful tours, but Henry will discover an enormous amount about his side's prospects this autumn. Argentina have been drawn in Wales' World Cup group.

Just across the Severn Bridge, Gloucester finally completed the first of a planned series of visits to the transfer market by securing the services of Junior Paramore, the influential loose forward from Samoa. Paramore agonised long and hard before turning his back on Bedford - indeed, last Friday's change of ownership at Goldington Road almost persuaded him to stay put - but the 30-year-old agreed a three-year deal yesterday.

"It was a difficult decision, but I have come to Gloucester for family reasons and for the security the move will bring," explained Paramore, who must undergo corrective surgery on a neck condition before playing again.

"Now is the right time to go; I have spoken to Rudi Straeuli, the Bedford coach, and he understands my reasons." Straeuli probably understands the reasons why another of his international forwards, Scott Murray, is considering offers from Newcastle and Saracens, but if the new Bedford are going to progress at all, they cannot afford to haemorrhage genuine talent.

There was reassuring news of Zinzan Brooke yesterday as the Harlequins captain-coach continued to recover swiftly from a whiplash neck injury suffered at Saracens on Sunday. The former All Black No 8 was not detained at Watford General Hospital and while another appearance this season was considered unlikely, doctors told him he would regain full fitness sooner rather than later.

WALES SQUAD (Tour to Argentina, May and June): Backs: S Howarth (Sale), N Boobyer (Llanelli), M Robinson (Swansea), N Walne (Richmond), D James (Pontypridd), G Thomas (Cardiff), K Morgan (Pontypridd), A Bateman (Richmond), M Taylor (Swansea), L Davies (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), A Thomas (Swansea), S Jones (Llanelli), R Howley (Cardiff), D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), R Jones (Swansea). Forwards: P Rogers (London Irish), A Lewis (Cardiff), D Morris (Swansea), B Evans (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), C Anthony (Swansea), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Richmond), I Gough (Pontypridd), C Wyatt (Llanelli), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), B Sinkinson (Neath), G Lewis (Pontypridd), R Arnold (Newcastle), M Williams (Pontypridd), I Boobyer (Llanelli). Players on standby: R Rees (Swansea), P John (Pontypridd), B Hayward (Llanelli), B Williams (Richmond), J Davies (Llanelli), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), H Jenkins (Llanelli).

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