Rugby Union: Wales hand Llewellyn captaincy against Italy: Evans hopes to be fit by New Year's Day

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The Independent Online
THE CAPTAINCY of Wales is no longer quite the poisoned chalice it used recently to be - though Ieuan Evans, laid up with a broken and dislocated ankle, may beg to differ - and yesterday it passed from Evans to Gareth Llewellyn for the World Cup ranking match against Italy at Cardiff Arms Park next Wednesday.

This match, which will determine the destination of the two countries in next year's finals in South Africa, has assumed the menace of last year's against Canada, which Wales lost. What with Scott Quinnell turning professional, Evans's ankle and Italy's more conclusive win over Romania (24-6) than Wales' (16-9), the mood, recently bright, has turned sombre.

It is not the first time Llewellyn has assumed Evans's responsibility. A former wild young thing who has matured under the twin burdens of leading Neath and being Wales' principal ball-winner, he did the job on the tour of Zimbabwe and Namibia when Evans was with the Lions in New Zealand last year.

Llewellyn, 25, also led Wales to their most notable victory of recent times, last season's over France, when Evans was last on the injured list. Indeed of this Welsh team, only Phil Davies has more caps than his second-row partner's 31. 'I enjoy captaining the side, having an influence on the way the game is played, talking to and encouraging the players,' Llewellyn said yesterday. 'I don't feel I have to follow Ieuan's style. I'll do it my way.'

In fact there is a school of thought that Wales would be better off led from closer to the heart of the action, the quality of Evans's captaincy having been based on the quality of his play out on the periphery as a wing. Not that Llewellyn could be described as a master tactician; it is actually at half- back that Wales most require tactical and strategic guidance.

The continued partnership of Davies and Llewellyn means the selectors have resisted the obvious temptation to introduce the 6ft 10in Derwyn Jones after the destruction of the Welsh line-out in Bucharest. After that, Llewellyn was relieved to keep his place, let alone be elevated to captaincy.

'There was pressure from the media on myself and Phil, but we knew we hadn't played well. We've looked at the videos of the match and found points we know we have to

address.' That said, for Jones it is a question of when not if, perhaps no longer than when Wales face the well-proportioned South African forwards on 26 November.

For now, Alan Davies, the Wales coach, is confining himself to tactical considerations to get the line-out right. 'There is no magic answer and changing players won't change our tactical appreciation,' he said.

Part of the trouble against Romania was the lack of variation and it fell to Evans, who has set himself a comeback target of New Year's Day, to conjure the winning try. Without the captain and another injured wing, Nigel Walker, Wales move Wayne Proctor to the right and bring in Anthony Clement - erstwhile full-back, stand-off and most recently centre - as a makeshift left wing. Emyr Lewis fills the No 8 place, as he did in Romania when Quinnell had a bad back as well as itchy feet.

WALES (v Italy, Cardiff, 12 October): M Rayer (Cardiff); W Proctor (Llanelli), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies (Llanelli), A Clement (Swansea); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon (Llanelli); R Evans (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath, capt), H Taylor (Cardiff), E Lewis (Cardiff), R Collins (Pontypridd). Replacements: Paul John (Pontypridd), N Boobyer (Llanelli), R McBryde (Llanelli), H Williams-Jones (Llanelli), D Jones (Cardiff), S Williams (Neath).