When Graham Henry's deflated band of shop-soiled disciples head for Paris for their weekend tete-a-tete with the French, they will do so armed with a brand new pack featuring Peter Rogers (born in Maidstone, developed in Johannesburg, employed by London Irish, but boasting a father from Trimsaran) at loose-head prop and Brett Sinkinson (once of the Whaktane Marist club in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty, latterly of the Waikato Chiefs, but now of Neath) on the open-side flank. Rogers has been a tip for Test honours since Henry's arrival in the autumn, but no one saw Sinkinson coming, despite his Welsh grandparentage.
Rogers replaces Darren Morris at the sharp end of the Welsh scrummaging effort and it is a sign of Henry's concern at the set-piece deficiencies of his squad that he has changed the remaining two-thirds of his threesome. Garin Jenkins, the Pontypool hard nut who now plys his trade at Swansea, returns for the lightweight Barry Williams at hooker while Ben Evans, a second All White front-rower, takes over the tight-head duties from the injured David Young. Unlike Jenkins, who has experienced pretty much everything Test rugby has to offer except consistent success, Evans has yet to start a full international. You can almost hear Christian Califano and Sylvain Marconnet licking their lips.
Still, Henry had to do something: reverses against Scotland and Ireland have sent the Welsh into a depression and there would have been no point him flogging a dead horse in the august company of Raphael Ibanez and his double Grand Slam-winning Tricolores. Sinkinson, in particular, has been in blinding form of late, albeit against the half-baked opposition produced by a Welsh Premiership, and the 28-year-old flanker will at least bring some Super 12 know-how to the red-shirted equation.
Meanwhile, England recalled Victor Ubogu to their squad for this Saturday's set-to with the Irish in Dublin. Bath's Nigerian-born tight-head replaces Graham Rowntree of Leicester in an otherwise unchanged 22-man squad - Rowntree picked up an injury during his club's weekend cup tie at Richmond - and his promotion could scarcely be more welcome to those who rate him the form prop in the country.
Clive Woodward, the national coach, had been tempted to pull in Richmond's Darren Crompton until he realised that he too had been incapacitated during Saturday's struggle at the Madejski Stadium. In the event, the 34-year- old Ubogu fits the bill perfectly; blessed with the ability to play on either side of the front row and renowned as a gifted ball-carrier with a startling turn of speed, he will almost certainly add to his 21 caps by taking the field as a 20-minute "impact substitute" on Saturday.
"I considered Will Green of Wasps for the vacant position, but I've selected Victor on the basis of his excellent club form and his experience at this level," explained Woodward. It was something of an about-face; during his brief spell at Bath before taking on the England job 18 months ago, the coach had been less than impressed by what he considered to be Ubogu's half-hearted attachment to training.
Remarkably, only three of the current England squad - Jonny Wilkinson, Neil McCarthy and Lawrence Dallaglio - will be on Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final business next month, a fact that emphasises the extent to which the mighty have been felled in the competition.
Yesterday's draw saw Wasps and Richmond given home advantage over Gloucester and Newcastle, respectively, and the pairings saved the Rugby Football Union a potentially itchy problem with Rob Andrew's Falcons, whose Geordie home at Kingston Park would not have met the 8,000 minimum capacity regulation.
Nothing in rugby is ever entirely straightforward, though: Wasps, scheduled to play their tie on Good Friday, are worried that Loftus Road will be unavailable to them because of a Queen's Park Rangers football match the following day.
WALES TEAM (Five Nations' Championship v France, Paris, Saturday): S Howarth (Sale); M Robinson (Swansea), M Taylor (Swansea), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Pontypridd); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (London Irish), G Jenkins (Swansea), B Evans (Swansea), C Quinnell (Richmond), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), B Sinkinson (Neath), S Quinnell (Llanelli). Replacements: K Morgan (Pontypridd), A Bateman (Richmond), D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), M Voyle (Llanelli), C Anthony (Swansea), A Lewis (Cardiff), B Williams (Richmond).
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