Rugby Union: Jones the Wallaby is Welsh

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JASON JONES-HUGHES sounds as though he might be Welsh and, in the considered opinion of Graham Henry, he is Welsh - at least, sufficiently Welsh to don the famous red shirt in this autumn's Cardiff-based World Cup. The Wallabies beg to differ, however; according to them, the 22-year- old New South Wales Super 12 centre is as Australian as a Waggawagga sheepdip, and they plan to make their point as forcibly as possible to the International Rugby Board.

Jones-Hughes, an Australian Schools and under-21 cap, was named by Henry yesterday in his 30-strong squad for the showpiece tournament beginning in October. "My father was a very proud Welshman and nothing would please him more than to see me playing in Welsh colours," he beamed. "This was an extremely difficult decision for me, and I had lengthy discussions with my family, but in the end my strong Welsh heritage and the opportunity to participate in the World Cup with the host nation were the deciding factors. I have informed the Australian Rugby Union and the New South Wales union of my intentions."

They, in turn, have informed the Welsh of theirs. "Frankly, this is a futile exercise," said Strath Gordon, the ARU communications director. "Not only has Jason been identified as a future Wallaby, but he has already played for the Australian Barbarians, who are considered second only to our Test side." Under IRB regulations, any appearance for a country's official second-string precludes a player from switching his Test loyalties to another nation.

It is now down to the IRB to adjudicate; the Welsh, who already have two New Zealanders, Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson, in their first- choice line-up, have asked the board to ratify Jones-Hughes' sudden embrace of Red Dragonhood. "I believe I am elegible and I'm excited at the prospect of playing a part in the resurgence of Welsh rugby under Graham Henry, a coach I regard extremely highly," said the player. "I made my decision fully conscious of the possibility that, in a few years time, I may have been considered for selection as a Wallaby. But I want to play at international level this year."

Henry, the former Auckland coach whose six successive victories have bestowed a certain legitimacy to his nickname of "The Messiah", once again showed his ruthless side by rejecting the World Cup claims of the prodigal genius of Welsh rugby, Arwel Thomas. The Swansea stand-off, one of the most natural ball-playing half-backs to emerge in the principality in the post-Jonathan Davies generation, has paid a painful price for his obvious physical shortcomings. Stephen Jones of Llanelli, sturdier and more adaptable, takes his place as understudy to Neil Jenkins.

There are few surprises elsewhere. Conscious of his side's perceived lack of depth at tight forward, Henry has named no fewer than five lock forwards in Chris Wyatt, Craig Quinnell, Mike Voyle, Andy Moore and, most surprisingly of all, Gareth Llewellyn, the veteran line-out specialist from Harlequins. That top-heavy approach to the engine room leaves space for only one specialist No 8, Scott Quinnell, although the versatility of Wyatt, Colin Charvis and Geraint Lewis would give Henry more than enough options should injury strike.

In the front row, Jonathan Humphreys is preferred to the 1997 Lion, Barry Williams, while Dai Llewellyn gets the nod over Paul John as Rob Howley's back-up scrum-half. The centre contingent is deeply impressive, Scott Gibbs, Mark Taylor, Allan Bateman and Leigh Davies join Jones-Hughes in a midfield quintet shot through with quality. But Howarth is the only specialist full-back.


S Howarth (Sale), N Boobyer (Llanelli), G Thomas (Cardiff), D James (Pontypridd), N Walne (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton), S Gibbs (Swansea), M Taylor (Swansea), L Davies (Cardiff), J Jones-Hughes (New South Wales), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), S Jones (Llanelli), R Howley (Cardiff), D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), P Rogers (Newport), A Lewis (Cardiff), D Young (Cardiff), B Evans (Swansea), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Quinnell (Llanelli), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), C Charvis (Swansea), G Lewis (Pontypridd), S Quinnell (Llanelli), B Sinkinson (Neath), M Williams (Cardiff).