Rugby Union: Neil Jenkins' reputation has suffered because he doesn't happen to be called Barry John, Phil Bennett - or Jonathan Davies

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The Independent Online
There are several bits of cheerful news about the place this week. The best is that Jonathan Davies may be playing for Wales against South Africa on 14 December.

Judged by his performance for Cardiff against Bath on Saturday, he certainly deserves to.

He was much assisted by the play inside him of Robert Howley, who is virtually certain to be at scrum-half whether Davies plays or not.

If he does, as I hope he will, it will be hard on Neil Jenkins who, as I wrote last week, has kept Wales within the pale of international respectability almost single-handed through his goal-kicking. In the rest of his game, his reputation has suffered not so much because he has played badly as because he does not happen to be called Barry John, Phil Bennett - or Jonathan Davies.

In their present predicament, England would be glad of Jenkins' services. Knowing Jack Rowell, however, I do not suppose he would have the sense to avail himself of them even if he could. Certainly the Cardiff-Bath encounter provided all the evidence we are likely to require about the folly of entering a major game without a reliable specialist place-kicker.

If Mike Catt had kicked his penalties, Bath would have won. It was as simple as that. They passed over Jonathan Callard not just once, when the team was originally selected, but twice, when it had to be re-jigged following the withdrawal of Jon Sleightholme.

Cardiff, by contrast, had not only Davies but Lee Jarvis who, normally an outside-half, put over some colossal kicks after he had come on as substitute full-back. On this form, there is a case for playing Jarvis either at full-back or on the wing and making him the principal Welsh goal-kicker, but I do not suppose this will happen.

But Davies's recall may well come about, in which case he will presumably do the place-kicking too. It might be said that his return would not only be hard on Jenkins but also sacrifice the promise of Arwel Thomas. My answer is that national selectors should pick the best team available, irrespective of age.

After all, the prop Jeff Probyn first played for England when he was 31. An outside-half of 34, Davies's age, is admittedly a slightly different commodity. Nevertheless, he is now playing as well as any in his position in the British Isles. Even so, there would be an element of sentimentality in his recall. It would be self-deluding for those of us who advocate it to refuse to acknowledge one of our motives. We wanted League and Union to come together. We - at any rate, some of us - also wanted the reconciliation symbolised by the sight of Jonathan Davies in a Welsh jersey once again.

The other bit of cheerful news is that there are two British (conveniently split between English and Welsh) clubs, and two French, in the last four of the Heineken European Cup. The next piece of cheer is that, in Cup coverage, the BBC is at last beginning to wake up to its responsibilities to rugby followers, all of whom, I am sure, pay their licence fees like the good citizens they are.

This good news is marred by the continuing dispute between the RFU and Epruc, representing the First and Second Division clubs. It has long been self-evident to me that the clubs are correct in wanting to abolish the divisional championship. The players - notably those from Bath, Bristol and Gloucester, forced as they are to combine reluctantly as the South- west - do not like it. The fans pay not the slightest attention to it. For how many go to Imber Court to watch London when they can watch Harlequins, Wasps, Saracens or Richmond instead?

The RFU says it regards these divisional matches as trials. Indeed, it has the impudence to insist to the divisions that they choose only England- qualified players.

The claim is fraudulent. Not one recent England player has got into the national side solely through his divisional performances. The selectors judge by club matches, perhaps too much so. The favoured clubs used to be those in the top half of the First Division. How otherwise was it that Ben Clarke and Jason Leonard were persuaded to move from Saracens (then hovering between First and Second Divisions) to, respectively, Bath and Harlequins? If the RFU very badly wants to hold a proper trial, it can still always have one, or several, as it used to in the old days.

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