Rugby Union: Davies pins his hopes on nine changes: Welsh seek revival

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The Independent Online
ALAN DAVIES now says his insistence that the team carry the can for defeat by Canada was a misquote but either way this is precisely what they have done. There are nine changes in the Wales team to play Scotland in a fortnight from the one beaten by Canada last month.

The impression, however erroneous it may now be said to have been, after the Canadian embarrassment was that as coach Davies was growing tired of taking responsibility that should belong to his players. He knows, even so, that another defeat at Cardiff Arms Park on 15 January could bring a peremptory end to his tenure.

So in a sense yesterday's team announcement, with six changes of personnel and another three of position, is a desperate throw. To change the metaphor, if the sweeping changes made by Davies and his co-selectors do not work against the Scots, it is liable to be the coach himself who is swept away.

Indeed it was both poignant and pointed when Davies commented: 'I recognised when I first got involved the pressure that the Welsh coach faces. It's a great deal better when you are supported in that position, so I would obviously like to thank Bob Norster, Gareth Jenkins and the selectors for their support.'

The tribute was as interesting for who was omitted as who was included. Norster is manager and Jenkins assistant coach. No mention of Ray Williams, the Welsh Rugby Union's coaching and player-development chairman, nor of Vernon Pugh, chairman of the union itself.

Davies must now rest his main faith in the return of Neil Jenkins to outside-half and a redesigned, bulked-up back row. Jenkins has to be accommodated somewhere because of his place-kicking but this remains a problematic selection because, uncomfortable as he was at centre, he has scarcely succeeded as an international stand-off either.

The switch comes at Adrian Davies's expense and, with Scott Gibbs injured for the season, prompts the formation of a new centre partnership in Nigel Davies and the 1989 Lion, Mike Hall. The Olympic hurdler Nigel Walker, fortunate to miss the Canada game through injury, will resume on the left wing instead of Wayne Proctor.

Wales contain eight Llanelli players even though the Scarlets are not the form team they were when previously they had eight, for last season's defeat in France. The selectors anticipate greater mobility from Ricky Evans than Mike Griffiths at loose- head prop. They expect Phil Davies, replacing Anthony Copsey in the second row, to act as a focus for the tight-forward effort.

In addition, all three members of the back row hail from Stradey. The idea of picking Emyr Lewis as an elongated open side in the style of Ben Clarke for England or Rob Wainwright for Scotland against New Zealand was abandoned once Lewis had been tried there in Thursday's trial; instead he swaps with Scott Quinnell, blind side on his debut against Canada but now No 8.

The selectors evidently fear the worst this season because the replacement of the more creative Lyn Jones with the destructive Mark Perego at open side is primarily a defensive measure.

Alan Davies specifically picked out Perego's 'tremendous tackling ability', adding: 'His defensive qualities will be needed against sides picking much bigger back-row forwards than us.'

Perego's rugby this season has been strictly limited: before the trial only four full league appearances for Llanelli, most recently on 1 December, plus one in which he was replaced and two as a replacement. 'He has an exceptionally good understanding of the game,' Davies enthused. To which Norster retorted: 'He bloody well should have. He watches enough from the side.'

WALES (v Scotland, Cardiff, 15 February): A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (capt), N Davies (Llanelli), M Hall, N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon (Llanelli); R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego (Llanelli). Replacements: M Rayer (Cardiff), R Jones (Swansea), A Lamerton, H Williams-Jones, A Copsey (Llanelli), H Taylor (Cardiff).

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