Rugby Union: Wales keep changes to a minimum

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The Independent Online
THE WALES selectors spent 12 hours discussing their choice for next Wednesday's non-cap match against Italy at Cardiff Arms Park but yesterday ended up with virtually the same team that beat Scotland six months ago.

Form in last Saturday's Llanelli-Swansea match was not necessarily a factor, since all the selectors saw Colin Stephens have a miserable time during the Scarlets' defeat. Stephens returns at outside-half - and even that change is enforced by Neil Jenkins's suspension.

The indications are that Jenkins would have played had he been eligible. 'It's important to keep the continuity going,' Alan Davies, the coach, said, which would be unarguable if the side could not be improved. The problem will come in decision-making and, as the outside-half has more decisions to make than anyone except the scrum-half, one has to assume that a heavier burden than ever will fall on Robert Jones.

The contrast between the Seventies, when such outside-halves as Barry John and Phil Bennett tended to pick themselves, and modern times was pointed out to the selectors at yesterday's press conference, though you would hardly expect Davies to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Even so, Wales clearly need someone capable of changing tactics as appropriate, and neither Stephens nor Jenkins compares with the Cambridge Blue Adrian Davies or, on current form, Swansea's Aled Williams in this respect. Davies is in the squad and will presumably be in the Wales B team to play the North of England on 14 October; Williams is not even in the squad.

At scrum-half Jones, who will be glad to know he can count among his admirers both of next year's Lions coaches, Ian McGeechan and Dick Best, majestically rebuffed the challenge of Rupert Moon in Swansea's win at Stradey.

Mike Hall, playing well at centre for Cardiff, is again asked to fill in on the left wing - even though he has suggested Nigel Walker, the Olympic hurdler now playing under his club captaincy, is worthier of that place.

The Nottingham and England flanker Gary Rees, acquitted last week of inflicting grievous bodily harm on Stefan Marty, of London Irish, is ready to resume his playing career. Rees, capped 23 times, would have retired if he had been convicted. 'I kept in light training during the summer but was irritated by niggling knee and shoulder injuries,' he said. 'They seem to have disappeared now - perhaps it is the adrenalin and sense of relief.'

WALES XV (v Italy, Cardiff, 7 October): A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), R Bidgood (Newport), S Gibbs (Swansea), M Hall (Cardiff); C Stephens (Llanelli), R Jones (Swansea); M Griffiths (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey, E Lewis (Llanelli), Stuart Davies, R Webster (Swansea). Replacements: M Rayer (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli), N Meek (Pontypool), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), M Morris (Neath).