Rugby Union: Wales call on John for the short term

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The Independent Online
ACCORDING to the latest joke doing the rounds in the valleys, the difference between Welsh rugby and the Millennium Dome is that the former will definitely be finished come the year 2000. Yesterday, Terry Cobner and his beleaguered management team asked Dennis John, the Pontypridd coach, to undertake an urgent reconstruction job on a shattered national outfit while emphasising the strictly temporary nature of his appointment.

Those Welshmen who confidently expected Mike Ruddock, the former Swansea coach to be named as a full-time successor to the recently departed Kevin Bowring were barking up the wrong pit shaft. Cobner, the national director of rugby, agreed that Ruddock was in the frame, but added that a worldwide search was underway for the "best coach money can buy". Two southern hemisphere big guns, Graham Henry of Auckland and All Blacks assistant coach Gordon Hunter, head the new pecking order.

Their emergence gives John's appointment a distinctly caretakerish feel, although the honest toiler from Sardis Road did not see it quite like that on taking over the reins yesterday. "I woke up this morning and thought 'You're in the big time now'," he said. "I look upon this as a big honour for my family and myself. I'm convinced that we have the right kind of 100 per centers in our squad to make a go of things this summer.''

John will lead an inexperienced 30-man party featuring 10 uncapped players on an unforgiving six-match tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa later this month. No fewer than 16 front-liners, including Neil Jenkins and Scott Gibbs, declared themselves unavailable for injury reasons but intriguingly enough, there have been no complaints from south of the equator, even though both Lions turned out for their clubs last weekend.

Mass cry-offs have resulted in sudden promotions for the two young Neath props, Darren Morris and Ben Evans, and a bristling brood of pacey back three specialists, including David Weatherley and Richard Rees of Swansea, Darril Williams and Garan Evans from Llanelli and Lenny Woodard of Ebbw Vale. There is no room for either Mike Voyle or Kingsley Jones, two members of this season's half-baked Five Nations pack.

Meanwhile, Clive Woodward called up a sixth prop, the Gloucester loose- head and occasional captain Tony Windo, for England's trip to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.