Rugby Union: Jones' claim for Welsh elevation

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The Independent Online
After their unremarkable and distinctly low-key opening in Cardiff, the touring Springboks move on to Newport tonight to face Wales A: one scratch combination playing another.

This ought to suit the South Africans better than the Welsh, since they have at least had the benefit of daily training and the intensity and passion the club sides - Llanelli, Neath and Swansea follow in the three games before the scene changes to Scotland - bring to these fixtures will be hard for the A-team to reproduce.

Still, it is an opportunity that in some cases may have a significant bearing on the selection the full Welsh team ends up with against South Africa on 26 November. Most obviously, this applies to Derwyn Jones, the 6ft 10in lock who stands eyeball-to-eyeball with England's Martin Bayfield.

They may be puny compared with the 7ft 1in Richard Metcalfe, who has been picked at England Under-21 level, but compared with even the biggest of the Springboks (Philip Schutte, 6ft 7in) they are freaks of nature.

Jones has had a bandwagon rolling for his international elevation ever since the Welsh line-out was cleaned out by Romania last month and, though Gareth Llewellyn and Phil Davies fared better against Italy a fortnight ago, their consistent effectiveness is clearly open to doubt.

Jones fared moderately well for Cardiff last Saturday, well enough for Kitch Christie, the Springbok coach, to be concerned. 'He is not just big but also aggressive,' Christie said - which, as anyone who remembers the awkwardness of his student days would agree, is testament to the change wrought in him by his club.

Cardiff almost made a virtue of their ignorance about the tourists but the Wales A management feel they know most of what there is know, partly because the coach, Kevin Bowring, was in South Africa last summer and partly because they have had far more time to pore over video-tapes than to hold training sessions.

'We know as much as anyone in Wales about Springbok rugby and have looked at them in great depth,' Bowring said. 'The team to face us has not been together before, although admittedly most of them should know each other quite well because there are a lot of Transvaal players in the side and the coach is a Transvaal man.'

Paul John, who has become the Wales A captain since Anthony Clement's withdrawal on Monday with a hamstring injury, yesterday made the optimistic assertion that his team would move the ball better than Cardiff had. 'The Cardiff backs were unable to make maximum use of the possession they won, particularly from the line-out,' he said. 'If conditions are right, we should be able to use the ball much better.'

This is an aspiration the Springboks, so keen to make a good impression that a delegation yesterday conducted a coaching session for young players at the Welsh Institute of Sport, will share. Christie began the tour by saying his prospective Test team would become evident by Saturday's match at Llanelli, making tonight's of vital concern for the Springboks involved.

WALES A: M Back (Bridgend); D Manley, S Lewis (Pontypridd), M Taylor (Pontypool), N Walker (Cardiff); A Davies (Cardiff), P John (Pontypridd, capt); I Buckett (Swansea), B Williams (Neath), L Mustoe (Cardiff), P Arnold (Swansea), D Jones (Cardiff), S Davies (Swansea), S Williams (Neath), R Appleyard (Swansea).

SOUTH AFRICA: G Johnson (Transvaal); J Olivier (Northern Transvaal), M Linee (Western Province), J Mulder, P Hendriks; H le Roux (Transvaal), K Putt (Natal); P du Randt (Orange Free State), J Dalton (Transvaal), T Laubscher (Western Province), J Wiese, P Schutte (Transvaal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), R Straeuli (Transvaal, capt), E van der Bergh (Eastern Province).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bristol).