Rugby Union: Wales stand by winning team

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The Independent Online
THERE are those who claim the best time to change a side is when it is winning, but not even a three-try nudge from the Cardiff wing Nigel Walker against the Netherlands was enough to persuade the Welsh selectors to tinker with the team who beat England 10-9 last Saturday.

It means that for the second time since Robert Norster and Alan Davies teamed up to guide Wales's on-the-field affairs 17 months ago they will field an unchanged team when the Welsh revival is put to the test again by Scotland at Murrayfield on February 20.

Despite the no change approach Norster, the team manager, was at pains to stress that it was not merely 'a rubber stamping selection process.' Walker, and the rest of the Wales A team players who put the Dutch to the sword last Saturday, also came under strong consideration.

'We felt that having had such a good response from the 21 players involved in the game against England that we should stand by them for the next game,' Norster said. 'We had a thorough debrief on the A team win over the Netherlands and every position came under consideration. It certainly wasn't a case of rubber stamping the side that beat England.'

The only other time during their reign that Norster and Davies gave their side such a vote of confidence was following last season's away win in Ireland. That was a significant achievement, being the first away win in four years, but the euphoria did not last long.

The next game ended in a 12-9 defeat at home against the French, although the Five Nations season did end on a high with a 15-12 victory over the Scots. A repeat may well be believed to be a mere formality by the Welsh public following the cutting down to size of Will Carling's Grand Slammers, but Norster has other views.

'Just as a one-point defeat doesn't suddenly make England a bad side, so a one-point victory doesn't make us a team of world beaters,' Norster said. 'The line-out was very important in our victory over England and Gareth Llewellyn and Tony Copsey were both immense and played major roles in the win. We put in a lot of work in that area, some of it to the detriment of our scrum.'

That is the next area for Wales to concentrate on before taking on the marauding Scots in a game that Davies believes will turn into 'a fair old battle between the Celts.'

'The Scottish players have an ability to raise their game considerably for internationals compared with some of their club performances. The same was true of our players against England,' Davies said. 'Their forwards are very good in the loose and their backs play a big part in that. And with Gary Armstrong back in the fold they pose a different problem to that which we faced last year.'

Armstrong will have noted the number of dents that his English counterpart, Dewi Morris, was able to make in the otherwise water tight Welsh defence last weekend and no doubt will be relishing the chance to test out the back row himself.

But if Wales can plug those few remaining holes, and firm up their scrum, then their revival could gather momentum.

WALES (v Scotland, Murrayfield, 20 February): M Rayer (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); R Evans (Llanelli), N Meek (Pontypool), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), G Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey, E Lewis (both Llanelli), S Davies, R Webster (both Swansea). Replacements: R Moon (Llanelli), A Clement (Swansea), A Lamerton (Llanelli), J Davies (Neath), A Reynolds (Swansea), P Kawulok (Cardiff).

The Wales Under-21 team will defend their unbeaten six-year record against the Scots on 19 February at Myreside when they seek to recover from a defeat in Ireland last October. There are nine changes, one positional, from the last team, including the return at No 8 of Llanelli's Scott Quinnell.

Scotland Under-21 have made six changes, following the 67-9 loss to France in Dijon last week - a result which meant they have lost all three games played. Only three backs, the full-back Murray Thomson, the centre Robbie Brown and the scrum-half Graeme Burns retain their places.

Six of the eight forwards, however, are retained. They are joined by the prop Gordon Rigby and the flanker Mark Ballantyne. The selection of Derrick Lee on his home ground will add spice to the team.