Rugby Union: Northern Super 12 is Henry's solution

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The Independent Online
GRAHAM HENRY yesterday said a northern hemisphere Super 12-style tournament is the only way forward if the Five Nations countries - Wales included - want to catch up with their southern cousins. The Welsh will get an idea of how far they lag behind rugby union's big three - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - when they face the Springboks at the new Millennium Stadium tomorrow.

In recent years the Super 12, a competition between provincial sides from the Tri-Nations trio, has helped the development of many top-class players. "There's probably more depth in South African rugby now than there has ever been and the sooner we get Super 12 rugby in Europe the better," Henry said. "South African rugby has developed tremendously over the last three or four years. The Super 12 brings the best out of people; it brings on young players.

"There are probably 120 people playing Super 12 rugby in South Africa. They're under pressure constantly for three months at a time at a level just under Test level and that's where they get the players from. Players in our international side and those who are potential internationals need to play highly competitive rugby week in, week out."

Henry has made public his reservations about facing the world champions, fresh from their 101-0 mauling of Italy last week, after nine Tests in six months. But whatever the result tomorrow the game will be notable as the first to be staged at Cardiff's pounds 121m Millennium Stadium. The ground is still being built and is not expected to be completed until mid-August, so a crowd of 27,168 will gather at the site of the old National Stadium.

Wales had their first training session there this morning and the team manager, David Pickering, said: "It's a really inspirational stadium. It's a superb playing surface which is going to suit attacking rugby."

n Wales international forward Emyr Lewis has signed a new two-year contract with Cardiff after shaking off a long-term back problem.