Rugby Union: Wales greet victory with qualified relief: Davies succeeds in group therapy

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The Independent Online
THE SIMPLE but awkward truth that Wales had to go through qualification to make it to next year's World Cup in South Africa is its own warning against greeting victory over Italy - and with it a place in their favoured High Veldt group - with anything more than sheer relief.

Moreover, there was enough of Wednesday night's game against the Azzurri that went wrong, as opposed to things like Neil Jenkins's kicking that went spectacularly right, for the Welsh to be still more relieved that it was Romania and not the Italians they had to play away.

The ecstasy with which the Arms Park greeted Nigel Davies's splendid try told its own story. First, it meant Wales will go in against New Zealand, Ireland and an Asian qualifier and - never mind the altitude - the Irish are deemed to be more beatable than Western Samoa, the second seeded team in the sea-level group with England and Argentina for which Italy have now qualified.

Second, the try ultimately meant that home defeat by the Italians would be avoided and, no matter how far these visitors had improved in the two years since Wales put 43 points on them, such humiliations are more than Welsh rugby can any longer bear. Romania, Samoa, Canada - but thank goodness not Italy - have come to Cardiff and conquered.

What this portends for the real thing next May is scarcely flattering for Welsh chances. The watching Irish manager and coach, the Murphys Noel and Gerry, may not be bitter about the unspoken Welsh perception of their team's beatability but in any event, apart from Jenkins's 24 points and the Davies try, they did not see a great deal to disquiet them.

In fact, you could argue that the nearby massed ranks of the England management had cause for greater concern, since Italy are close to being a very good side indeed. But for the improvement in the Welsh line-out over its abject showing in Romania, the unusual inaccuracy of Diego Dominguez's kicking and the Italian propensity for conceding penalties, they might even have won with a little to spare.

But then Italy as well as Wales had already got what they most wanted by both beating Romania and so condemning them to the so-called Group of Death with South Africa, Australia and Canada. How different from the other qualifiers - Argentina, Tonga and the Ivory Coast - who are happy just to have made it to South Africa.

The same could be said about whoever makes it from the eight-nation Asian qualifying tournament that runs from 22-29 October in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Japan are favourites, South Korea their closest rivals, for the final finals place.

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