Rugby Union: Evans' landmark as Welsh leader: Wing to equal national captaincy record against England

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IEUAN EVANS will equal the captaincy record of one of Welsh rugby's legendary early figures when he leads Wales's quest for the Grand Slam against England at Twickenham a week tomorrow. The return to fitness of Evans and Nigel Davies was confirmed in yesterday's team announcement at Cardiff Arms Park.

It will be the 18th time in Evans's 41 internationals that he has been captain, taking him level with Arthur Gould, the Newport centre who played for Wales between 1885 and 1897 and is often referred to as rugby's first superstar. Such was his popularity that, late in his career, public subscription raised pounds 600 with which to buy him the deeds of a house in Newport's smartest suburb.

This was considered so scandalous that in 1896/97 Scotland and Ireland refused to play Wales, and the incident led directly to a tightening of amateur regulations that seems laughable in this day and age. Certainly, Evans is more professional than his great predecessor ever was.

His return to the team comes on the wing for Simon Hill, who replaced him against France. Evans will not have played for six weeks since injuring a shoulder against Ireland, nor will Nigel Davies, who is restored at centre in place of the Lions full-back, Anthony Clement, after recovering from a pelvic injury suffered in the same match.

In fact, Evans reckons the opportunity to train rather than play has left him fitter than at any time this season. Besides, the weekend away from league rugby again accorded the otherwise unchanged Wales team gives them a useful advantage over England, most of whom will be bogged down as usual in the Courage Championship tomorrow.

Even after winning their three games, Wales are performing the time-honoured ritual of seeking to ensure a familiar underdog status for themselves. Indeed, Alan Davies, the coach, yesterday revealed that the original objective for this season had been to improve the Welsh try ratio rather than actually win Five Nations matches.

This figure was -2 last season, -5 over the two championships Davies has been in charge, and a horrendous -20 over the two before that. The modest aim was to make it +1 this time but as it stands at +4 (6 to 2) Davies was moved to say yesterday: 'We will score tries at Twickenham.'

What did Davies think of the possibility that the highest try- scorers (France) could end up with the wooden spoon, and the championship might go to a side (England) who had scored none? 'I think you'll find England will have to score a try to win the title,' he retorted.

WALES (v England, Twickenham, 19 March): M Rayer (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies (Llanelli), 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: R Jones, A Clement, S Hill (Cardiff), R McBryde (Swansea), H Williams-Jones, A Copsey (Llanelli).

The lifting of lifetime bans on players like Jonathan Davies who turn to rugby league is again on the agenda of the International Rugby Board. Australia's proposal that players be allowed to return two years after finishing their league careers was rejected last March, but pressure from southern hemisphere unions will see it reconsidered at the annual meeting in London at the end of the month.