Rugby Union: Wales sight the green light: Steve Bale looks back on an evening when tradition was broken but one during which the old dragon breathed fire

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The Independent Online
Symbolism abounded at Cardiff Arms Park when Wales wore green jerseys to beat Italy. There was no good reason other than rampant commercialism for the Welsh to discard their traditional red - and even that now sports green edging and a dragon motif. It is simply the way of the modern rugby world.

'Wales XVs', as opposed to the genuine article, have not habitually had to change their wardrobe. Colour clashes had been the only criteria. It is one thing to adulterate your colours - England have done so, too - but quite another to abandon them altogether. (Italy wore a white, red and green ensemble rather than their usual blue.)

The kit manufacturers, at least, will be pleased with their exposure; there is serious money to be made here and the game was televised live in Wales. The odd thing was that Wales, whose rugby was frequently as green as Wednesday night's jerseys during their years of decline and dissension, played with a harder edge and clearer self-belief than has been their habit against this level of opposition. There was nothing green about it at all, in fact.

As long as they do not get carried away, because if this performance were replicated against Australia next month the consequences would be unpleasant. The 43-12 score compared well with England's 36-6 (which would have been 40-7 under present scoring values) against Italy in the World Cup and seven tries are not to be denigrated. But it scarcely did justice to Italy's contribution and, if the Welsh pack lose their way against the Wallabies as they did against the Italians, Campese and company will not let them off lightly. That is guaranteed.

On the other hand, the consistently excellent rugby being served up at the top end of the Heineken League shows that Welsh rugby is manifestly on the rise and it would be remarkable if the national team did not, sooner or later, become the beneficiary.

'The enthusiasm in Wales is quite stirring to behold,' Alan Davies, the coach, said. On the other hand, he still has profound difficulties to address as a result of the Italian game - specifically Anthony Copsey's complete failure to win anything in the middle of the line-out.

Then there is the need for direction at outside-half, which may not have mattered against Italy but will be critical against Australia when every scrap of possession will need to be put to best use. Shrug off Wednesday night if you like, but the evidence of the recent Llanelli v Swansea match is not in Colin Stephens's favour.

Still, when you recall Welsh calamities of the past decade, from the epochal defeat in Romania in 1983 through the home defeat by Romania in 1988 and on to the World Cup defeat by Western Samoa, to see off Italy so conclusively was a decent effort. Eddie Butler, Jonathan Davies and Ieuan Evans - captains during the triple whammy - would have been ecstatic.

Evans, who is still captain, nearly was. 'It was very good in terms of morale against a team that performed admirably in the World Cup,' he said. 'It's a step; we know we have to step up another couple of gears against Australia.' That, by some recent Welsh standards, amounts to ecstasy.