Rugby Union: Wales suffering from insularity: Pressure for change may bring the Anglo-Welsh league a step nearer

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The Independent Online
IF WALES' 26-24 defeat against Canada was another mighty blow to the Welsh revival, it was also a huge advertisement for an Anglo- Welsh league. The insularity that is currently shackling the game in Wales became more and more apparent as the match against the World Cup quarter-finalists wore on. As times became more troubled for the Welsh players, so they reverted to type.

And type for them these days means the weekly habits of life in the Heineken League. What Wednesday night proved is that they are simply not good enough.

So how can the best players break free of what many of them see as the uninspiring drudgery of turning out in First Division fixtures they know are not going to test them? The Anglo-Welsh league is the latest panacea and talks between the RFU and the Welsh Rugby Union are likely this season.

'It's very difficult making quick decisions under pressure at international level when you aren't called on to do the same for your club week in, week out,' Adrian Davies, the Wales outside-half, said. 'As far as Welsh rugby is concerned familiarity is breeding contempt. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents so well you just play to them.

'At the moment the league situation isn't doing anyone any good. We should be catering more for the needs of the top-level players and providing them with more competitive rugby every weekend.

'We are losing our ability to adapt by failing to come into contact with different players. If the Japanese and Canadians come along and offer something completely different to what we are used to we have to be able to adapt our game.'

If it was frustrating for the players on Wednesday, just imagine what it was like for the management watching their well-laid plans fall apart. The Welsh coach, Alan Davies, claimed you could see his players drawing his pattern of play on the field in the record- breaking win over Japan last month, yet against Canada it was as though they ripped up the script.

It was a bad result and a dreadful performance, but with anything up to 14 Test matches next year, Wales are going to need as many international players as they can muster.

There is a warning to them, however, from an exasperated coach: 'If there are players who don't adapt to our style they will have to go.' So who should be looking to their laurels?

Supporters of the Neath prop, Brian Williams, are bound to be making out a strong case for his inclusion over Mike Griffiths for the opening Five Nations game against Scotland on 15 January, while Phil Davies is likely to figure in the second row. The back row remains a question of balance, and who to play on the open side, while the whole midfield must come under review.

Scott Gibbs prefers to play at inside centre, Neil Jenkins wants his No 10 jersey back and Mike Rayer will be pushing to regain his place at full- back. One of the big problems, however, is that the strength in depth at the highest level from a senior playing population of only 22,500 is not what it used to be.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WELSH RUGBY'S DISMAL DECADE ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1982: Scotland become the first team to win a Five Nations match in Cardiff in 27 matches. Their 34-18 victory is biggest championship defeat in 58 years at the ground. 1983: Wales lose 24-6 in Romania. 1984: Australia win 28-9 at the Arms Park. Biggest defeat by a touring side. 1985: Ireland win at the Arms Park for first time in 18 years. 1987: Lose World Cup semi-final to New Zealand in heaviest ever defeat 49-6. 1988: Two successive record Test defeats on tour of New Zealand, 55-3 and 54-9. Also beaten by Waikato, Wellington and North Auckland. 1989: Bottom of the Five Nations table and suffer record defeat against France, 34-6. 1988-90: Worst ever run of defeats - 12 out of 14. 1990: Worst ever season. Five Nations whitewash, record defeat by England, 34-6. 1990-91: Worst ever run of games without a win - eight. 1991: Lose 73-8 to New South Wales on Australian tour. Another record Test defeat, 63-3. Lose 16-13 to Western Samoa in the World Cup. In the same competition the 38-3 defeat by Australia is the worst home defeat ever. 1993: Ireland end run of 11 Five Nations defeats by beating Wales in Cardiff, 19-14. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Brooke out of tour, page 38

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