Kevin Bowring used his first opportunity to place his own imprimatur on the Wales team yesterday when he announced a daring selection, including five new caps and eight changes, to face Italy in Cardiff next Tuesday.
The new full-time coach previously sent out a team as caretaker against Fiji in November and was forced into change by injuries which have ruled out five of the team who scraped a convictionless victory. However, two of the newcomers then, Lyndon Mustoe and Craig Quinnell, are discarded along with Christian Loader, who was winning only his second cap.
But even so, this team - with a completely fresh midfield and two uncapped forwards - represents a clear break with a doleful past as well as a colossal risk against opponents who justly aspire to join the Five Nations' Championship and, in A-team guise, beat Scotland last weekend. "They have ability, they have great potential and they have great motivation," Bowring enthused. "We are looking forward with this selection. We need to evolve a pattern of play that will revolve around an open-side flanker who can win the ball at the breakdown and an inside centre with good distribution skills. We need a pack that can provide quicker support for the backs to ensure greater continuity in our game."
There is an exciting, if fragile, feel about this side, with Arwel Thomas being introduced from Bristol in place of the injured Neil Jenkins at outside-half and Llanelli's ultra-dynamic Gwyn Jones filling the open- side role which the coach deems so critical.
Matthew Wintle, 23, and Leigh Davies, 21, form a new centre pairing, with Andrew Lewis, the 22-year-old prop who was Cardiff's only uncapped player in last Sunday's European Cup final against Toulouse completing the introductions. In addition, Gareth Llewellyn is restored for his 41st cap at lock, John Davies returns at prop and Emyr Lewis on the blind side.
Strange to relate that, less than a fortnight ago, Brian Hanlon, Bristol's coaching co-ordinator, was saying that at 21 Thomas needed another season of English league rugby, and the former Neath prospect himself scarcely disagreed when he described the height of his immediate ambition to be a place on the bench. But perceptions changed in a trice when Jenkins was hurt and Thomas now insists he is ready, despite his club's disappointing run of form, culminating in a heavy defeat by Harlequins four days ago.
Thomas is the first Welshman to be capped from Bristol since Ronnie Morris, another outside-half, in 1937. "I'm not afraid to have a go at anything, but it has to be a considered risk," he said.
WALES (v Italy, Cardiff, 16 January): J Thomas; I Evans (Llanelli), L Davies (Neath), M Wintle, W Proctor (Llanelli); A Thomas (Bristol), A Moore (Cardiff); A Lewis, J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), J Davies, Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), D Jones, E Lewis, H Taylor (Cardiff), G Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: S Hill (Cardiff), D Evans (Treorchy), R Howley (Bridgend), L Mustoe (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), S Williams (Neath).Reuse content