Rugby Union: Thanks be for Wales' revival

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The Independent Online
THE Five Nations' Championship has become one of the two great sporting competitions of the world. The Olympic Games can no longer be taken seriously, for can anyone treat with seriousness an ostensibly amateur competition which is rampant with professionalism and which, moreover, includes not only ice skating but synchronised swimming?

The Five Nations' only rival is the football World Cup and that comes round once every four years. I am sure that in the British Isles we do not appreciate the Five Nations as we should. I am less sure that we - or, to be precise, other people - should exploit it more.

Recently, there have been, to me, disturbing suggestions that this should happen, with England being greedy about television fees. I hope it does not happen, for I do not want the competition to be Packerised, with even more outre jerseys (of which I say something later on).

There is, however, a strong case for playing only one international on consecutive Saturdays. This would mean that the 10-match season would be of precisely the same length as the present one - 15 January to 19 March.

Meanwhile, we should give thanks for what we have. After Saturday, the championship is more open than observers thought it would be beforehand. France are clearly beatable, not only by England (which was widely thought to be possible), but also by Wales and even Scotland. The French have always been uneasy at Murrayfield, and may well be so again on 19 March, if the Scots have managed by then to recover their spirit and to restore a few players (such as Derek Stark and the injured Scott Hastings) to the side.

Those who did not see the whole match but relied on television highlights may not appreciate what heavy weather the French made of defeating a courageous but uninventive Irish side.

Do not misunderstand me: you cannot argue with four tries to 0. Ireland can be grateful to, and for, Eric Elwood. France should feel similarly about Thierry Lacroix. The difference was that Lacroix always looked dangerous not only with the boot but with the ball in his hands in a way none of the Irish backs did.

Wales, however, are certainly capable of defeating this French side in Cardiff. I am not suggesting that Mike Rayer should be retained as a wing, well though he took what must have been a horribly wet ball. But I should still like to see a more complete footballer on the left than either Nigel Walker, or Wayne Proctor.

I am glad to see the selectors took my advice and brought back Phil Davies, who had a fine game, to counterbalance the inexperience of Scott Quinnell, who likewise performed prodigiously. Whatever happens - if, say, Emyr Lewis goes to No 7 - Quinnell must now be kept at No 8 and not messed about as his father, Derek, was.

In my hopes for 1994 I neglected to mention one or, rather, two of them: that the Welsh team should stop not only calling themselves 'The Dragons', for nobody else does, but looking like Christmas trees.

I am old enough to remember the time when the national side appeared in shorts varying in colour from dark navy to faded blue-grey. During the same period the Irish XV wore their club stockings. Though I am not a great believer in uniformity for uniformity's sake, I welcomed the change at the beginning of the 1950s when the Welsh went over to white shorts and the Irish to green stockings.

Since then the Irish, like the Scots, have maintained their sartorial dignity; while the Welsh, like the English and the French, have lost theirs. The Welsh jersey used to be a fine thing, carrying only a black number on a white square at the back and the Prince of Wales's feathers on the left breast. Today it looks like a garment purchaseable in Mothercare. Perhaps it is; perhaps that, or something very like it, is the reason for the change.

In matters of kit, Wales should rejoin the Celtic nations. In the meantime, the Principality is praying for heavy rain again at Cardiff on 19 February.