Rugby Union: Wales prepare for Iberian inquisition: Evans' double task

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The Independent Online
THE WALES selectors yesterday named a 26-strong World Cup squad - a year earlier than everyone else since they are the unfortunates condemned to go through the qualifying process for failing to make the quarter- finals last time.

In fact this is a squad for next month's Western Europe qualifying tournament in Iberia involving games against Portugal and Spain that are more important for Ieuan Evans's Five Nations champions than any of those that won Wales their title.

A double victory will qualify Wales for autumn fixtures at home to the Central Europe winners, probably Italy, and away against the Eastern Europe winners, probably Romania, to determine who plays where in the World Cup proper in South Africa next year.

If Wales successfully come through this tortuous, self-inflicted process, they will be in Pool C in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein with New Zealand, Ireland and an Asian qualifier and would fancy their chance of this time making the last eight.

By accident rather than design, the tour that follows, to Canada and the Pacific islands, replicates pool conditions. Having already played Canada, Wales will then meet Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa in a week. 'It's closely akin to what we have to do in the World Cup,' Evans said.

Robert Jones is included among the would-be qualifiers but not in the expanded tour party of 30 because he will be spending the summer playing and coaching in Cape Town. The excellent Pontypridd scrum-half, Paul John, will take his place.

Scott Gibbs had told Robert Norster, the Wales manager, he would not have been fit to play whether or not he had joined St Helens this week, though Norster said yesterday that the selectors might have considered taking him on tour as a means of reintegration after his serious knee injury. But then he went north.

WALES WORLD CUP QUALIFYING SQUAD: Full-backs: A Clement (Swansea), M Rayer (Cardiff); Wings: I Evans (capt), W Proctor (Llanelli), N Walker (Cardiff); Centres: N Boobyer, N Davies (Llanelli), M Hall (Cardiff); Outside-halves: A Davies (Cardiff), N Jenkins (Pontypridd); Scrum-halves: R Jones (Swansea), R Moon (Llanelli). Props: *I Buckett (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), R Evans, H Williams-Jones (Llanelli); Hookers: G Jenkins, *R McBryde (Swansea); Locks: P Arnold (Swansea), A Copsey, P Davies (Llanelli), G O Llewellyn (Neath); Back row: E Lewis, M Perego, S Quinnell (Llanelli), *H Taylor (Cardiff). For Canada & Pacific tour: As above plus Wing: *I W Jones (Llanelli); Scrum-half: *P John (Pontypridd); Back row: S Davies (Swansea). And one to be selected, minus R Jones.

* denotes uncapped.

WORLD CUP ITINERARY: 17 May: Portugal (Lisbon); 21 May: Spain (Madrid).

TOUR ITINERARY: 8 June: Canadian Select XV (Hamilton); 11 June: Canada (Toronto); 18 June: Fiji (Suva); 22 June: Tonga (Nuku'alofa); 25 June: Western Samoa (Apia).