Rugby Union: Davies has spark to plug gap

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The Independent Online
Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55

Japan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

AS Shiggy Konno, the Japanese rugby supremo, has often bemoaned, Japan are an emerging side who have never emerged. They have improved but other teams have improved more, and yesterday at Cardiff they were victims of an avalanche of nine Welsh tries. It could have been more had the Welsh forwards stuck to their guns in the second half.

Although some might say that the exercise from the Welsh point of view was pointless, nevertheless a quality Welsh performance was vital even against the miniature rugby of Japan. Wales are embarking on one of their toughest years, with 13 matches in 12 months. These include, apart from the Five Nations, games against Canada, Spain and Portugal, two Tests in the South Seas, Italy and Romania, and South Africa.

Two successive, easy victories in the past 10days against Welsh representative teams were no preparation for meeting the full might of the Welsh team. Japan were unwary of the full force and competitiveness of a Welsh side for which the coaches Alan Davies and Gareth Jenkins are trying to find a pattern of play and an authority, absent for too long. This is a process which they began to develop in Africa in the summer.

During the first 60 minutes, there was evidence that Wales were beginning to look the part of a team with a collective purpose. The combination of Adrian Davies with Neil Jenkins and Scott Gibbs in the centre was particularly impressive. For too long, Wales have lacked a spark plug at fly-half, and the subtle passes and deft kicking of Davies might now provide that missing link. Certainly Gibbs was devastating in his running while Jenkins looked more at home in the centre, which was a measure of the importance of Davies.

On the debit side, the Welsh forwards again disappointed, particularly in the way they faded in the second half, allowing Japan to win too much possession and thus losing the possibility of at least another 20 points.

The Japanese, always so neat and dapper, still look like a varsity side. They are always genuine and, even in a heavy defeat such as this, and their enthusiasm, technique and determination never diminish. It is their lack of stature which is their Achilles' heel. Ferguson and Latu were by far the best of the forwards and their best backs were Yoshida and Williams on the wings, who languished for want of the ball.

Typically, it was Ieuan Evans who set the scoreboard ticking when he scored one of the fastest tries in international rugby. Forty-six seconds from the kick-off, he picked up a bouncing ball from a poor pass by the scrum-half Magatomo and raced 60 metres to score. Tries then came apace throughout the first half, from Gibbs, Evans again, Mike Rayer, Jenkins and Rupert Moon.

After second-half tries by Emyr Lewis, Rayer and Gibbs, the Welsh went off the boiland we saw Ian Williams score an excellent consolation try for Japan. The final try came from Tony Clement, but where were the rugby-loving public of Wales who failed to come and support their national side?

On this evidence, there is a need for another long look at the Welsh forwards, who again failed to come up to scratch. The Welsh backs are now beginning to look a very comfortable lot indeed and they will take some holding during the Five Nations' Championship. But we all know that international matches are largely won at forward.

WALES: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), N Walker (Cardiff); A Davies (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli); M Griffiths (Cardiff), A Lamerton (Llanelli), J Davies (Neath), A Copsey (Llanelli), G LLewellyn (Neath), S Davies(Swansea), E Lewis (Llanelli), R Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: M Rayer (Cardiff) for Walker, 27 min; R Bidgood (Newport) for Evans, 74 min.

JAPAN: T Matsuda (Toshiba); I Williams (Kobe Steel), M Fujikake (World), E Kutsuki (Toyota Motor), Y Yoshida (Isetan); S Aoki (Ricoh), Y Magatomo (Suntory); O Ota (NEC), M Kunda (Toshiba Fuchu, capt), K Takahashi (Toyota Motor), Y Sakuraba (Nippon Steel), B Ferguson (Hino Motor), S Kaleta (Ricoh), S Latu (Sanyo), H Ouchi (Ryukoku University).

Referee: E Morrison (England).

Scores: Evans (try, 46 sec, 5-0); Gibbs/Jenkins (try/con, 14 min, 12-0); Evans (try, 21 min, 17-0); Jenkins (try, 28 min, 22-0); Moon/Jenkins (try/con, 35 min, 29-0); Lewis/Jenkins (try/con, 42 min, 36-0); Rayer/Jenkins (try/con, 55 min, 43-0); Gibbs (try, 17 min, 48-0); Williams (try, 70 min, 48-5); Clement/Jenkins (try/con, 40 min, 55-5).

(Photograph omitted)