Rugby Union: Howley should be fit

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The Independent Online
Rob Howley's damaged shoulder may be giving cause for concern, but the Welsh selectors were still in high good humour yesterday as they named an unchanged side for the Five Nations match with Ireland at the Arms Park tomorrow week - the first time in 11 internationals that they have felt able to stick to their guns, writes Chris Hewett.

Howley fell awkwardly during training two days ago. However, Dr Roger Evans, the national squad's resident bumps and bruises man, expected the scrum-half to face the Irish after a course of physiotherapy. It is something of a departure that the Welshmen are now consulting a medical doctor rather than a bereavement counsellor, but the victory over Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend has worked wonders for morale.

Arwel Thomas, the diminutive outside-half who tied the Scots in knots in Edinburgh, embodied the new mood by promising the Irish they would barely recognise him as the fragile bag of nerves who fell apart in Dublin a year ago. "I'm a little bit older and wiser now," said Thomas, who is also considerably heavier, thanks to an intensive weights programme.

"I took a big knock early on in last year's game and while there was nothing illegal about it, I wasn't really aware of what was going on around me. But I know now I'm capable of handling those hits if anything like that happens again. I'm up to 11st 2lb and feel confident I can cope when it comes to the physical side. I'm more streetwise."

Which is precisely the quality Kevin Bowring, the national coach, wants to see more of. "Ireland will provide tough opposition and we'll need considerable improvements in key areas if we are to beat them for the first time in Cardiff in 14 years," he said after confirming the line- up.

"Every position has been scrutinised and we feel our control of the ball in contact situations will have to be better against the Irish. We want to break the stranglehold they have on us here and make the Arms Park a fortress once again, but we need to show them respect."

WALES (v Ireland, Five Nations' Championship, Cardiff, 1 February): N Jenkins (Pontypridd); I Evans (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), G Thomas (Bridgend); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Rowley (Pontypridd), S Williams (Neath), S Quinnell (Richmond), C Charvis (Swansea). Replacements: J Davies (Cardiff), P John (Pontypridd), C Quinnell (Richmond), G Jones (Cardiff), L Mustoe (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea).