Rugby Union: Davies tests trial procedure: Steve Bale on the issues at stake in this afternoon's rugby union encounters

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The Independent Online
BOXING DAY and its derby strife having become cold turkey, Christmas rugby has come to mean the post-prandial binge of this afternoon's Leicester v Barbarians match. At least it had until Wales, Ireland and Scotland decided mid- season holidays were not an indulgence to permit their players.

Thus while the usual 17,000 or so will be cramming Welford Road, West Wales will be playing East Wales before an indeterminate number at Cardiff Arms Park and the Irish and Scots will be inaugurating A internationals before still fewer at Lansdowne Road.

The Welsh Rugby Union has mounted an advertising campaign along the lines of 'Who is Best? East v West', a slogan designed to accentuate a supposed rivalry that the union had been doing its level best to play down. In fact, the idea of any of today's participants bursting with pride at donning an East or West jersey is laughable.

Still, it is a useful concept however reluctant some players may have been to have it foisted on them. There are points to prove even if the Welsh team management would like anyone uttering the dreaded word 'trial' to wash his mouth out with carbolic. In fact, the drop-out rate from the West side has been assuming trial- like proportions.

At the weekend, Colin Stephens and Scott Gibbs joined Ieuan Evans and Robert Jones among the absentees. As well as becoming the West outside-half, Adrian Davies should also become the Wales outside-half, always supposing he comes safely through today's trial. . . sorry, test. Nigel Davies takes over at centre.

The WRU has been giving away thousands of tickets in an attempt to bolster the attendance. There will be a pre-match cabaret but the match, so one has constantly been told, will be 'serious' whereas Tigers v Baa-Baas . . . well, that's just a jaunt isn't it? Try telling that to the 17,000.

In fact, though the annual fixture has become less serious than it was, it continues to be a spectacle - for which people in this age of grunt and grind are quite happy to pay to see. It has its share of significance, too: Jonathan Davies's performance at Leicester in 1987 was one of the distinctive occasions of his all-too-transient rugby union career.

The change has been in Leicester rather than the Baa-Baas. Whereas the first half of the Tigers' season was a prelude to the Barbarians, nowadays it is merely a diversion, however pleasant. Even so, on this day Welford Road remains the place to be. Ian Hunter and Franck Mesnel having withdrawn, Harvey Thorneycroft and Jean-Marc Lafond will now figure in the Barbarian threequarter line.

At Lansdowne Road, the A- team performances will have a critical bearing on selection for what threatens to be an unforgiving season of 'transition', to use the euphemism, for Ireland and, more strikingly, Scotland. Come to think of it, Dublin is not such a bad place to be at this time of the year. But that has nothing to do with the rugby.

Boxing Day reports, page 16