Rugby Union: Wales gamble on Young fitness

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS a suspicion of desperation in everything the Wales squad did from the moment they trotted out on to the London Welsh first XV pitch in Richmond yesterday - the first time the national team has taken advantage of the Exiles' facilities, but then it is a home game for them at Wembley, writes David Llewellyn.

The management policy has barred them from speaking to the media in the 48 hours before the match against Ireland to avoid unnecessary pressure on the poor little lambs and, after an apparently satisfactory work-out and with no obvious reaction to the rigours of the 90 minute session, the Cardiff prop Dai Young was named at tighthead.

There is no doubt Wales need Young, the 30-year-old former Salford Rugby League player. The Wales coach, Graham Henry, acknowledged: "The Irish have the best tight five in the Five Nations." And, since Wales were ripped to shreds up front by Scotland two weeks ago, something needed to be done, but whether Young was the answer remains to be seen.

He has managed just a handful of appearances for Cardiff this season. It seems strange to think that something as innocuous as a calf muscle could have floored such a bull of a man, but that has been the case with the Cardiff captain, whose near 18 stone, 6ft 1in bulk will add clout to the Welsh cause.

The team manager, David Pickering, insisted that the British Lion is 100 per cent fit and said that he was expected to last the 80 minutes of tomorrow's test. Pickering, himself a former Wales captain, said: "Today's training session was pretty extensive and there was a tremendous scrummaging session. Dai took a full part in that and he also took part in the team run-out."

As a measure of Wales' desperation to include him in the side they are prepared to overlook his lack of match hardness. And against the fiery and fired up Irish that could be a critical factor. Henry admitted: "David has not played enough rugby, but that was not the major criterion for selection."

It is his experience they are after. That alone will be invaluable. He made his Wales debut in the 1987 World Cup and has since gone on to accumulate 28 caps. Henry added: "We haven't been that positive at the scrums in the last three internationals. He is an old hand who has scrummaged in a lot of international games and he knows the ropes. And he is packing down with two relatively young front rowers. For us to put three such inexperienced players together would not be the right thing to do. You want some experience in there. We also have two young locks who have not played a lot of international football, so the presence of Young is pretty important in the forwards. Particularly when you consider that the Irish have four Lions in their tight five."

Henry really rates the Irish. "They should have won two weeks ago against France and I don't know why they didn't, they were certainly the better side on that particular occasion," he said.

The Australian captain, John Eales, is expected to be fit to play in this year's World Cup after an exploratory operation on his right shoulder yesterday. The Australian team doctor, John Best, said that he expected Eales could be back playing within six months, giving him time to prepare for October's World Cup.