Rugby Union: Wales drop six players for France

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The Independent Online
HAVING declined to take the plunge for the less demanding Irish challenge when it would have been safer and more appropriate, the Wales selectors yesterday dived in headlong. They came up with six changes in their side to play France at Parc des Princes next Saturday.

The lucky half-dozen will now be asked to sink or swim in European rugby's most intimidating international arena. It does not seem fair really: Wales have not won in Paris since 1975 and have not so much as scored a try there since 1983. On their last-but-one visit, they lost by a record 31-12; two years ago it was even worse, the record being extended to 36-3.

It would have been better, certainly more humane, to have arrived somewhere near this latest Welsh side in more modest jumps - in other words by first making a few changes after the conclusive defeat in Scotland - rather than in one bound as a reaction to the calamitous result against Ireland.

Instead, the new-look Welsh will go to France as bigger outsiders than ever the Irish were when they came to Cardiff. There are two new caps, one player recalled for his second, another who has been out of favour since the World Cup and yet another who last played for Wales four years ago.

At scrum-half, Rupert Moon has ousted Robert Jones who, after 46 caps at the heels of consistently beaten Welsh packs, could probably do with the break. At 22, Andrew Lamerton is the youngest hooker in Test rugby, though when David Fox is fit the fledgeling international is not even first choice for his club, Llanelli.

Phil Davies is plucked from beyond the squad to return at lock, Gareth Llewellyn moving to middle-jumper. Emyr Lewis switches to No 8 to accommodate Mark Perego, leaving Wales still with two blind-side types on the flank and no one to combat the pace of France's open side, Laurent Cabannes.

In the backs, Mike Hall's continuing groin injury assisted in the choice of Nigel Davies at centre, a welcome example of a man in form who has the distributive skills so sorely lacking. But the selectors have still not addressed the main problem: the need for a playmaker at outside-half. Neil Jenkins stays in the side purely on goal-kicking.

Given Jenkins's success ratio of three from 10 against Ireland, this seems like carrying loyalty to the point of obsession. Adrian Davies, for all his inconsistency, has exceeded 200 league points for Cardiff and could hardly do worse.

Equally contentious is the choice of Anthony Clement at full-back - useful for Clement's hopes of being a Lions utility back in New Zealand, but hopeless for Mike Rayer, who has personally triumphed amid the collective adversity of the past weeks. As ever, now is not the time for Welsh rugby to pull together, so Rayer immediately went public to say: 'I'm devastated and bitter.'

The team announcement was deferred 24 hours to enable the management to make their explanations to those they had booted out. Rayer, however, did not like the explanation from Alan Davies, the coach, any more than the decision itself. 'As soon as he told me I was dropped, I stopped listening,' the full-back said.

WALES (v France, Paris, 20 March): A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (capt), N Davies (both Llanelli), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon; R Evans, A Lamerton (all Llanelli), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), P Davies (Llanelli), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), M Perego, E Lewis (both Llanelli), R Webster (Swansea). Replacements: R Jones (Swansea), A Davies, M Rayer (both Cardiff), N Meek (Pontypool), J Davies (Neath), P Arnold (Swansea).

Craig Chalmers, who broke his arm playing for Scotland against England last Saturday, has resumed light training in the hope of being put on stand-by in case a replacement outside-half is needed for the Lions' tour of New Zealand.

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