Rugby Union: Trial for Davies as well as a test case for Wales: Coach looks to players to repay debt when Japan come calling at the Arms Park while divisionals get under way in England

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WHEN the last World Cup ended for Wales in a premature, highly embarrassing exit Alan Davies resisted his inclinations and - at the behest of his tortured players - agreed to carry on as coach. He came to their aid when they needed him and now, beginning this afternoon when Wales play Japan at Cardiff Arms Park, is the time for reciprocation.

Canada follow on 10 November; then after the Five Nations' Championship, Wales have to sail in the rugby backwaters of Portugal and Spain for World Cup qualifying matches. Throughout it all, Davies's future will rest in his players' hands (and feet), and not in the same, obvious way as every coach must rely on those he coaches.

For Davies, it is much more than a question of rugby. Because his players so earnestly wished it, he agreed to undergo a mid-life upheaval when he extended his coaching tenure from short to long-term, selling up in Nottingham to move back to his native south Wales.

Then out went the old Welsh Rugby Union committee, in came the new, and all of a sudden Davies is under unwonted pressure. At least it would be unwonted if he had not already once been sacked - by the Rugby Football Union in 1989 after three successful years as England B coach. We may be sure that in Wales Ray Williams, the new chairman of coaching and player development who spearheaded the coaching revolution a quarter-century ago, is already casting a critical eye over Davies's work.

Which is why for Davies nothing less than an overwhelming performance will suffice today. However galling it may be, his Welsh team cannot escape the public demand that they play at least as well as Wales A did in Japan's first tour match, even if emulating the A team's 61 points is asking a bit much.

'We all read papers and listen to the news, so we all know what's supposed to be going on,' Ieuan Evans, the Wales captain, said. 'Whether it's true or not I don't actually know but I sincerely hope that our performances this season will ensure Alan's survival for as long as he sees fit, at least until the 1995 World Cup. There's been so much upheaval in the Welsh Rugby Union already that the last thing we need is more of it in the squad structure as well.'

Evans admits to anxiety bearing the weight of expectation placed on his side by that Wales A result. 'Playing Wales A, the Japanese were only three days off the jet, so allowances have to be made, and you have to remember that this is the game they were always looking forward to and aiming at. A one-off international, as I well know from my own experience of touring, is completely different from other games.'

Victories in the past eight days over West Wales and a lower-division selection ensure these tourists a 50 per cent record however harshly expectation becomes reality at the Arms Park. Twenty years ago the Wales of Bennett, J P R and co beat their predecessors 62-14 and, despite this week's Japanese advance, it is reasonable to expect something nearer that than the

29-24 which was all Wales could manage against Japan in 1983.

On the other hand, it is building on the achivevements of a profitable African tour that is uppermost in management minds. 'We need to be a bit more practical about how our game is developing and our style is developing, as opposed simply to measuring the score that ends up on the board,' Gareth Jenkins, the assistant coach, said. Still, a handsome half-century would be very handy, wouldn't it?

WALES: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), N Walker; A Davies (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli); M Griffiths (Cardiff), A Lamerton (Llanelli), J Davies (Neath), A Copsey (Llanelli), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), S Davies (Swansea), E Lewis, L Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: R Jones (Swansea), R Bidgood (Newport), M Rayer (Cardiff), H Williams-Jones (Llanelli), G Jenkins, P Arnold (Swansea).

JAPAN: T Matsuda (World); I Williams (Kobe Steel), M Fujikake (World), E Kutsuki (Toyota Motor), Y Yoshida (Isetan); S Aoki (Ricoh), Y Nagatomo (Suntory); O Ota (NEC), M Kunda (Toshiba, capt), K Takahashi (Toyta Motor), Y Sakuraba (Nippon Steel), B Ferguson (Hiro Motor), S Kaleta (Ricoh), S Latu (Sanyo), H Ouchi (Ryukoku University). Replacements: R Onitsuka (Doshisha University), T Fa'amasino (Nikonikodo), T Maeda (NTT Kansai), E Hirotsu (Kobe Steel), M Nakamura (Toshiba), S Nakashima (NEC).

Referee: E Morrison (England).