Rugby Union: Wales find merit in thoroughly modern mobility: Another step along the road to recovery allows Davies to keep the hounds at bay despite reservations about the opposition

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EASY to carp, easy to criticise - the Welsh know all about the perils of autumn internationals, so to have beaten Japan 55-5 at Cardiff Arms Park is at least passable even allowing for the inflation in scoring values. Nothing more than that, mind, not really enough for the powers-that-be to claim it as 'a great start'.

If Alan Davies's comment is a mite exaggerated in view of the way Wales dozed during a disappointing final quarter, the coach can rest assured that those who may eventually seek his head must leave their axe in the woodshed for now. These are the other powers-that-be, those in the Welsh Rugby Union administration.

In fact this Welsh performance compared favourably even with that of 1973 against Japan, remembering that Wales had Phil Bennett, Gerald Davies, two John Williamses and one Mervyn Davies and scored 11 tries. In 1983 there were only five. This time there were nine, and as these were accrued over 60 as opposed to 80 minutes there is reason to consider it another positive step in an admittedly tortuous journey rather than arrival.

But then it was 'only' Japan, whose lack of inches supposedly render their line-out ineffective and undermine them whenever the confrontation - whether collective or individual - is physical. If some within the WRU want a stick with which to beat Davies, here it is. After all, Wales's four-Test winning run has been achieved at the expense of mighty Zimbabwe (twice), Namibia and Japan.

Next month Wales play Canada and the Five Nations' Championship follows, though less ominously, one would suggest, than in recent seasons. On the one hand, the Japanese actually overcame their disadvantage in stature to share the line- out. On the other, Wales now have genuinely modern, mobile, ball-handling tight forwards in Andrew Lamerton and John Davies.

Add to these the continuity given Welsh play by at last finding, or to be more precise selecting, a creative flanker: the estimable Lyn Jones, a Cymric version of Neil Back. And add the development potential still to be realised and, eureka, happier days are here again.

They are for the time being, anyway. One thing Welsh rugby's dog days, meaning the committee turmoil just as much as the national team's tribulation, has taught incredulous observers is that hereabouts dream all too easily turns to nightmare. So the euphoria of, say, beating England can swiftly become the despair of defeat by Scotland, Ireland and France.

It happened thus, only last season. And that is why certain parties on the revisionist, post-Denis Evans WRU committee have put Davies under notice about the performance of his team. (It used to be his teams, but his authority over the rest of Wales's representative structure has been summarily removed.)

'We are not in a position to take on board the administration of the game,' Davies noted after the Japanese game, doubtless wishing the committee would leave him in peace. Instead they have a habit of waving 'offending' newspaper articles under his nose. All he needs now is a vote of confidence from the chairman . . .

In previous autumns Wales have lost twice to Romania, the 1988 Arms Park defeat portending the ultimate resignation of Davies's predecessor-but-one, John Ryan. There have, too, been record home defeats by New Zealand and Australia and if Canada discomfit Wales on 10 November there are men within the union whose suspicion would be confirmed.

So, for the management's sake as well as the players', Wales must continue to deliver and that will have to mean further improvement. Against Canada, 20st Norm Hadley and all, they will not be able even to consider muscling their way to victory, so an excess of forward power would be a waste of time and energy. 'Certainly we will have to rely on our backs keeping the ball more,' Davies said. 'If we overdo our work in the forwards against a big pack we will suffer.'

This was, in effect, a criticism both of the forwards, for overdoing it against Japan, and of the backs, for making life difficult for the forwards. To exploit the new laws, Wales are obsessively seeking to create phase after phase of loose play - which requires an element of player re-education and can also be carried to extremes.

Moreover why Wales, whose forwards are smaller than anyone else's except Japan's but including Canada's, persist and insist in slowing the ball's release whether in tight or loose is as mysterious as the workings of the WRU itself. As a few of Saturday's tries demonstrated, when this Welsh team run at space instead of opponents, they are dangerous.

And opportunistic. Japanese bungling meant that Ieuan Evans's first try after 45 seconds, Rupert Moon's and Mike Rayer's were gratefully accepted. There again, the creation of Scott Gibbs's two, Evans's second, Neil Jenkins's, Emyr Lewis's and Anthony Clement's was an agreeable contrast of clever passing, by forwards and backs, and raw power.

Japan's raw power, on the other hand, was concentrated almost exclusively in their imported forwards: the Tongan, Samoan and Fijian who bulked up the pack. The latter, lock Bruce Ferguson, was especially strong in his running and did the work for Ian Williams's consolation try. Yes, a Ferguson-san and a Williams-san combining on behalf of Japan.

But the incontrovertible feeling - of the tour, like the Test - is that Japanese rugby has regressed since the 1991 World Cup even when the contribution of the Pacific islanders and an Australian like Williams is taken into account. After 20 years the rising sun is stuck below the horizon.

Wales: Tries Evans 2, Gibbs 2, Jenkins, Moon, Lewis, Rayer, Clement; Conversions Jenkins 5.

Japan: Try Williams.

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: M Rayer (Cardiff) for Walker, 27; R Bidgood (Newport) for Evans, 73.

JAPAN: T Matsuda (Toshiba); 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 Fuchu, capt), K Takahashi (Toyota Motor), Y Sakuraba (Nippon Steel), B Ferguson (Hino Motor), S Kaleta (Ricoh), S Latu (Sanyo), H Ouchi (Ryukoku University).

Referee: E Morrison (England).

(Photograph omitted)