Rugby Union: : John ready for his break

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The Independent Online
Paul John knows all about being rugby's bridesmaid. The Pontypridd scrum-half has been a Welsh replacement 18 times, won three caps in three years and been his country's first choice on just one occasion.

But all that could change over the next three weeks as the national coach, Kevin Bowring, continues his side's build-up to the 1999 World Cup with a three-Test, six-match tour of the USA and Canada. Wales' seven Lions will be missing and the real carrot for John, and the Richmond No9 Andy Moore, is to stake a claim for a long-term stay in the scrum-half berth following Rob Howley's shoulder operation.

It is estimated that Howley will be sidelined for up to four months, ruling him out of the pre-Christmas internationals against Romania and New Zealand. The prospect of playing five Tests in a row is a rare one for both John and Moore. "I was gutted for Rob when he had to leave the Lions tour and fly home. Behind that Lions pack everyone would have seen his world class," John said. "There is a tremendous rivalry between us that goes back a long way. We first came up against each other as 15-year-olds.

"I'm a year older than Rob, but he was playing at the same age level. So since then we have been opponents - at under-15, under- 18, under-21, Students, A and now international level.

"We get on very well, despite our healthy rivalry, but this tour is a chance for me, as well as the number of youngsters in the party, to push myself forward for the Wales team for next season and beyond.

"I'm taking nothing for granted. Having been on the replacements bench 18 times it is nice to at least have the chance to stake a claim to starting another Test."

John won his first cap on the Wales tour to Canada and the South Seas in 1994, when he played in the win over Tonga. But since then his appearances have been limited to two minutes as a replacement for Howley against the Barbarians in 1995 and four minutes at the end of this year's triumph over the USA.

Meanwhile, the Scots, already on tour in South Africa, are convinced they reached a turning point with their 33-22 win over Northern Transvaal, the one province to beat the Lions, in Pretoria on Friday night. "This was a 15-man victory. Every player performed to their best," said the coach, Graham Hogg.

Wales Itinerary: 1 July v Souths (Charlotte, North Carolina); 5 July v USA (Wilmington, North Carolina); 8 July v USA Development XV (San Francisco); 12 July v USA (San Francisco); 15 July v Ontario (Hamilton); 19 July v Canada (Toronto)