Rugby Union: Davies in line for Test recall

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The wizard is back - well, almost. Jonathan Davies was named yesterday in a 26-strong Welsh squad for the one-off Test with Australia in just over a fortnight's time, and if the legendary outside-half survives the next selection debate and wins a place in the starting line-up, he will complete the most remarkable comeback of modern times.

At 34, Davies is finally beginning to rediscover some zest for his country's national game, much to the surprise of those who watched him disappear into his shell last season after the unprecedented razzmatazz of his return from rugby league.

Older, wiser and, if truth be told, a fair bit slower than when he last pulled on the only red shirt that matters in Wales - a union shirt - six years ago, he has nevertheless turned in some high-quality performances for Cardiff over the last three months and has been duly rewarded by the national coach, Kevin Bowring.

Davies joins fellow outside-halves Neil Jenkins and Arwel Thomas in the squad, and if he squeezes past them and faces the Wallabies, he will add to the 27 caps he so memorably won between 1985 and 1988. He can also boast 14 league appearances for Wales and 13 for Great Britain - ample testament to his all-round brilliance as a rugby footballer.

"It's been difficult coming back into union but I'm delighted to have this opportunity," he said on hearing the news of his call-up. "There are three outside-halves in the squad but I've got a chance of playing, which is more than I'd have were I still outside the squad.

"It's nice to be recognised at the ripe old age of 34. I've had a run of games in the No 10 jersey for Cardiff, I feel quite comfortable with my rugby at the moment and I'm sure my experience will be of help."

Bowring, who has been impressed with Davies' control and clear-headed decision-making in recent weeks, has also found room for three other league refugees: the Swansea centre Scott Gibbs and two forwards, the tight-head prop David Young of Cardiff and the flanker Richard Webster of Bath. There is also a member of the Quinnell family in the squad, although not the one everyone expected to see.

Scott Quinnell, who has been embroiled in an embarrassing public wrangle over international payments since he joined Richmond from rugby league giants Wigan in the summer, stays on the outside looking in while his club-mate and brother Craig, who has been the more eye-catching of the two over the early months of the campaign, wins a place as one of three second rows.

Despite reports that Scott has settled his differences with the Welsh Rugby Union treasury, Terry Cobner, the director of rugby, said yesterday that he had been unable to finalise matters with the player's agent, Mike Burton.

Four players who took part in Wales' last home international match, the narrow defeat by France in September, are missing from the latest selection. The Llanelli centre Nigel Davies, who captained the side that night, is still struggling with injury, as is club colleague Mike Voyle, the second- row forward. The other absentees are the Neath hooker Barry Williams, who scored a try inside the first minute of his Test debut, and the Pontypridd flanker Martyn Williams.

Ieuan Evans, the former national captain who was also injured in the early stages of the confrontation with France, has recovered from a lengthy lay-off and is one of only two full-time wings named by Bowring. However, both Wayne Procter and Gareth Thomas have played top-level rugby in the position.