Rugby Union: Henry worked wonders with material already to hand

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IT WAS a matter of good luck and nothing else that last week, in relation to Wales' chances against South Africa, I confined myself to the reflection that Graham Henry must wish he had as great resources at his disposal as Clive Woodward. I think this must still be so, despite Wales' colossal performance at Wembley.

But if I had gone into the predictions business more wholeheartedly I should not have written that Wales would be drawing or in the lead until 10 minutes before full-time - or that their losing margin would be only eight points. I should have said that 20 points would be a moral victory and 30 points respectable, in view of the South Africans' 83 points margin six months ago and their position as the leading side in the world.

I should have gone on to write that the Wembley match was the worst imaginable introduction to Wales' preparations for both the Five Nations' Championship and the World Cup - that, far from learning from an accomplished opposition, they ran the risk of becoming, in the language of my native land, danto, which means slightly more than "daunted", carrying as it does overtones of helplessness, depression and defeat.

And I should have been wrong. A good deal can happen between now and February, when the Five Nations begins. But if the bookmakers persist in their normal practice of making France or England favourites (England are consistently poor value) and Wales third at generous odds, they may be worth what the bookies like to call an investment.

They may also perform better than expected on their home ground in the World Cup, always assuming that the stadium is ready on time. An architect friend of mine, who has nothing to do with the project, but happened to be in Cardiff the other day, told me the schedule was clearly very tight.

It is worth noting that Henry worked his wonders with material which was already to hand and had mostly, indeed, been around the place a long time. The one complete newcomer was the New Zealander Shane Howarth, he of the convenient granny, who is about as Welsh as my Islington-born pussycat. But I do not want to spoil the party, not at this stage anyway. Apart from one initial handling error, he had a marvellous match.

The only other two new faces were Chris Wyatt and the already capped Chris Anthony, the latter a substitute for the injured David Young. Young will presumably return in due course, as will Allan Bateman in the centre, well though their replacements, respectively Anthony and Mark Taylor, played on Saturday.

To the aficionado, indeed, the revelation was how well the front row stood up to the formidable South African trio. The penalty try awarded against them did not seem to me to be the correct legal consequence of the offence - if offence there was. It was an eccentric award even by the standards of a punishment that has grown quite out of control. The Welsh trio appeared to be openly disengaging and asking for a new scrum. The referee could simply have awarded one and allowed the game to continue.

But to those who gain their impressions from more obvious sources the revelation was the Quinnell brothers. To me, however, it was not a revelation at all. For years now, ever since Scott returned from Wigan and Craig left school, I have been urging successive selectors to include them both in any Welsh pack that is put on the field with any serious hope of winning a match.

I told them, but they wouldn't listen. I was informed that I did not understand the finer points of modern forward play.

They were, or so I was instructed, too fat, not fit enough. Scott could operate sporadically, in bursts. He did not give 100 per cent for the whole of a match. Craig had similar tendencies, and laboured under the additional disadvantage of not understanding the line-out properly. I had seen them play for Richmond, had I?

Ah well, England and France, to say nothing of South Africa and New Zealand, were different from Newcastle and Saracens.

Today I feel vindicated: likewise in my belief in Colin Charvis. Contrary to what I read somewhere, he was not a previously insignificant or unknown player. He first came to prominence playing for Wales on the open side, before Gwyn Jones' tragic injury but when Jones was nevertheless unavailable. He was unlucky not to go to South Africa with the Lions.

Henry had the wit to play him at No 6, clearly his best position, and to produce a pack which contrived not only to be heavier than the South Africans' but also to possess, in Martyn Williams, a genuine No 7. Whatever happens next, Graham Henry has done enough to be awarded the freedom of Cardiff.