Rugby Union: Returning heroes lift Welsh hearts lifted by return

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The Independent Online
With most of their walking wounded now running, passing and kicking as well, the Wales selectors yesterday named an almost first-choice team for the England game at Cardiff Arms Park a week tomorrow, thereby generating greater optimism than could have been imagined when Will Carling's team were destroying France.

If you drew a form line between that match and Wales's defeat in Paris, you would not come up with much of an argument in the Welsh favour. But the difference in circumstances - a home crowd, England's traditional aversion to playing in Cardiff and a stronger Welsh team - is enough to prevent English confidence from becoming outright hubris.

Besides, quite apart from those returning, Robert Jones had already been recalled for the French game - and he has enjoyed being England's nemesis at the Arms Park. This will give the scrum-half his 50th cap, the third Welshman behind Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams to reach his half-century. Ieuan Evans, about to win his 49th, will be next.

First among equals, Evans resumes the captaincy and his right-wing place four months after suffering a multiple injury to his left ankle: broken fibula, dislocation and ruptured ligaments. He has come safely through three comeback games and has scored tries in each of the last two.

His Llanelli team-mate Nigel Davies, who had a depressed fracture of the cheekbone around the same time as Evans's injury, is back at centre, Mark Taylor making way after winning the two caps that would have gone to Davies and Simon Hill losing out to Evans on the wing.

The Welsh back row is bolstered by Emyr Lewis's recovery from an ankle injury and Hemi Taylor's from a broken hand that originally threatened to put him out for the rest of the season. Phil Davies, who never wanted to play at No 8 in any case, and StuartDavies are relegated to the bench.

Taylor proved his fitness by playing in Cardiff's win over Treorchy on Wednesday but whoever Wales had picked they were bound to be chronically outweighed and outreached by the formidable English trio of Rodber, Richards and Clarke.

This leaves only two main items on the injury-list: the full-back Mike Rayer and the prop Ricky Evans. Evans was added when he broke his left leg in falling after Olivier Merle's head-butt in Paris and is replaced now, as he was then, by the 1989 Lion Mike Griffiths, making a total of five Welsh changes.

Merle, dropped from the England game in consequence, is restored to the bench but the French team to play Scotland at Parc des Princes are as unchanged as possible. "We want to give them another chance after being humiliated at Twickenham," Pierre Berbizier, the coach, said. "We want a reaction of rebellion and revolt."

Jean-Luc Sadounry's lacerated leg will have healed in time but Laurent Benezech's operation to re-attach a retina entails Christian Califano's moving to his club position at loose-head prop with Laurent Seigne, Benezech's Twickenham replacement, at tighthead.

The Scotland captain, Gavin Hastings, has been omitted by his club, Watsonians, for their league match against Heriot's at Goldenacre tomorrow. Hastings, who is not injured, is being rested in the national interest despite being eager to play.

n The four Northampton players - Nick Beal, Harvey Thorneycroft, Matthew Dawson and Justyn Cassell - chosen for the England training squad for the Hong Kong Sevens have withdrawn because the tournament clashes with Saints' First Division relegation matchagainst Harlequins on 25 March.

WALES (v England, Cardiff, 18 February): A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies (Llanelli), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); M Griffiths (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), D Jones (Cardiff), G O Llewellyn (Neath), H Taylor, E Lewis (Cardiff), R Collins (Pontypridd). Replacements: M Back (Bridgend), R Moon (Llanelli), S Davies (Swansea), P Davies, H Williams-Jones, R McBryde (Llanelli).

FRANCE (v Scotland, Paris, 18 February): J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Bernat-Salles (Pau), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); C Deylaud (Toulouse), G Accoceberry (Begles); C Califano (Toulouse), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), L Seigne (Brive), O Brouzet (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi, P Benetton (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: S Viars (Brive), Y Delaigue (Toulon), A Macabiau (Perpignan), M de Rougemont (Touloun), O Merle (Montferrand), M Cecillon (Bourgoin).