RUGBY UNION: Evans searches for the pressure points

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The Independent Online
Wales would be best served if their three new coaches could devote their exclusive attention to the World Cup, but as if that were not a harsh enough reality Alex Evans, Mike Ruddock and Dennis John this afternoon have to forget South Africa and guide their clubs through the Swalec Cup quarter-finals, writes Steve Bale.

Nor do their players have the luxury of standing down from club rugby even to the partial degree that is happening in England let alone altogether like the Scots. The Heineken League still has to be played out, the cup to be won and, with only a provisional squad of 32 so far named, World Cup places to be gained.

Thus Welsh aspirants who may have thought they had already satisfied the previous management team of Robert Norster, Alan Davies and Gareth Jenkins now have to stake their claim all over again - as is made clear by Evans, the Australian who has succeeded Davies as head coach. "The 32 players in the squad are going to be given a grilling and it's going to be very difficult for them," he said.

By this Evans means he, Ruddock and John will be looking into the players' hearts and minds as well as their ability, and this stage of the cup - with Cardiff at home to Aberavon, Swansea at Newbridge and Pontypridd at home to Mountain Ash - is as good a time as any.

Indeed, because there is no let-up in the Welsh clubs' fixture-list, the nine squad sessions that will be held between now and departure for South Africa, starting tomorrow, will be absolutely focused on quality not quantity. "We have a very heavy and tight schedule to stick to but we won't be going overboard with training and running people into the ground," Evans said. "There are tremendous commitments on the players on the home front."

This hardly sounds like perfect preparation and is indicative of the continuing conflict between the requirements of Welsh clubs and their national side.

Not that Cardiff and Pontypridd, the first two in the First Division, will be over-concerned. As they are entertaining opposition from the Second Division, they can anticipate a comfortable passage today.

Less predictable are the other ties. Newbridge have already beaten Swansea this season but, with the championship beyond them, the All Whites have come into form at the right time by beating Neath in the cup and Pontypridd in the league. Bridgend's defeat at Stradey last Saturday suggests Llanelli may yet salvage something from an awful season by winning today's repeat.

n The Glasgow flanker Fergus Wallace will lead a Scotland party of 26 on a four-match tour of Zimbabwe while the World Cup is taking place in May and June. A vacancy at scrum-half will be filled by Derrick Patterson if Andy Nicol is passed fit for the senior squad. The tourists, to be known as a Scotland XV, will integrate young players with an experienced core who will be on stand-by as reserves for the World Cup.

Squad, Sporting Digest, page 43