Rugby Union: Cool Canadians warn Wales: Arms Park test of strength for the dragon as old dominion muscles in

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IT IS a perfect reflection of the changing international rugby pecking-order that the formerly upstart Canadians simply cannot understand why Wales should be regarded as favourites for tonight's Test match at the Arms Park.

Our attentions have been elsewhere of late - specifically on the All Blacks, now in Scotland, and the Wallabies in France - but here among us are the representatives of another old dominion who crept up the established order in the 1991 World Cup and reckon they have remained there.

'We can't understand why anyone thinks Wales will win. We've got the record. Wales have been struggling. Wales have won a few matches but against who? We are here to win and we expect to win,' are the thoughts of Gareth Rees, the Oxford University stand-off. Gareth Rees of Canada, that is.

Before he broke a leg Norm Hadley, the Canada captain who has joined Wasps this season, also expected rather than hoped for victory, so what is this about the Canadians wanting a close shave? Every member of the squad is growing a goatee beard in solidarity with Hadley's successor as captain, Ian Stuart, and they will come off only if they win.

Apparently the notion of slipping back into Canada in bearded incognito does not enter their thoughts. This is a rugby country that likes to think of itself as being on the move: 13 months ago they lost by only 26-13 to England at Wembley; two years ago they were worthy World Cup quarter-finalists, which is more than can be said for Wales.

But there is less positive evidence, too. A narrow win and narrow defeat against a shadow England team during the summer were unconvincing as evidence of a leap forward, so was last month's 43-16 defeat by Australia, however much the Canadians protest that they were unfairly treated by such a scoreline.

What they have above all is an intense, disconcerting physicality at forward. So where Wales were under no physical pressure from Japan last month, and found nine tries and 55 points all too easy to come by, the reverse will be true tonight.

Indeed, the Canadians have already given a foretaste in a run-out against Cardiff Harlequins which consisted of two halves of 30 minutes, seven Canadian tries to one and a massive punch-up. 'They sharpened their claws,' one observer said. Vernon Pugh, who happens to be the coaching director of the Harlequins as well as chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, was distinctly unimpressed.

He has duly reported back to Alan Davies, the Wales coach. 'The game against Japan was fine but Canada will provide us with a real test of where we stand,' Davies said. The coach wants more spontaneity this time compared with last, when Wales showed flair and pace but not the wit and wisdom to exploit them fully.

'Against Japan we played to a pattern, so much so that you could see the players drawing it on the pitch,' Davies added, reminding his decision-makers - particularly the outside-half Adrian Davies - that it is for them, not the coach, to take a game by its scruff.

Scott Quinnell's appearance will complete the ninth father- and-son pairing to play for Wales. Derek Quinnell was six months older than his son when he won his cap in 1972, though by then he had already played in a winning Lions team against New Zealand. Now he is a national selector, which may or may not be to Scott's advantage, and the Wales A manager.

'It was difficult in schoolboy and youth rugby,' Quinnell junior, 21, said yesterday. 'I got targeted because of the name and people used to try to rough me up. You could say I learned to look after myself at an early age.'

WALES: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), W Proctor (Llanelli); A Davies (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli); M Griffiths (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), A Copsey (Llanelli), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), S Quinnell, E Lewis, L Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: M Rayer (Cardiff), R Jones (Swansea), H Williams-Jones, A Lamerton, P Davies (Llanelli), H Taylor (Cardiff).

CANADA: M Williams (Meralomas); R Toews (University of British Columbia), S Gray (Kats), I Stuart (Vancouver Rowing Club, capt), S Stewart (UBC Old Boys); G Rees (Oxford University), C Tynan (Cambridge University); P Szabo (Pocomo), I Kennedy (Meralomas), D Jackart (UBC OB), J Knauer (Meralomas), A Charron (Ottawa Irish), I Gordon (James Bay), J Hutchinson (York Yeomen), C McKenzie (UBC OB). Replacements: A Phillips (Vancouver Rowing Club), I MacKay (Kats), J Loveday (Calgary Irish), R Bice, I Cooper (Vancouver Rowing Club), C Whittaker (James Bay).

Referee: O Doyle (Ireland).

All Blacks on high road, page 39

(Photograph omitted)

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