Rugby Union: Wales' task is to stand and deliver: Selectors experiment

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The Independent Online
WHETHER they liked it or not, the Welsh players went on trial last night and the management team will go through a similar, nerve- racking experience on 15 January.

The team to face Scotland in the Five Nations' Championship opener next month will be named today, and unless they play to their full potential, and deliver a victory, there could be changes off the field as well as on it.

The relationship between the Welsh management team, Rob Norster, Alan Davies and Gareth Jenkins, and the general committee of the Welsh Rugby Union is not exactly cordial at present, the latter having flexed its muscles enough to demand the playing of a trial at Stradey Park last night.

It was something the management vehemently opposed, the leading Welsh clubs were up in arms about and the players certainly did not take kindly to. In the end it became a political exercise with the compromise solution of three 20- minute opposed sessions taking the place of a more formal Probables v Possibles trial match.

'It was a useful exercise and the players gave it a good go. It was quite good given the appalling conditions, although I'm not sure it told us an awful lot,' Norster said.

What it did do was provide the six selectors with a chance to experiment for an hour with their leading back-row forward, Emyr Lewis, operating as an open-side specialist.

The No 7 jersey has proved difficult to fill since Swansea's Richard Webster moved to rugby league this season. Llanelli's Lyn Jones has filled the role in the last five internationals but is deemed by many to be too small for the international game.

Not so Lewis, who, at 6ft 3in and 16 stone, has the kind of physical presence that Davies requires. He is also among the quickest forwards in the Welsh set-up.

But having moved across the back row from blind-side flanker to No 8 this year, Lewis is unlikely to be too enamoured with a further move to an even more specialised role where he will find himself competing against far more experienced breakaway players.

Such a tactical switch by the selectors would enable them to employ Scott Quinnell at No 8, his club position and the role he filled so well for the Barbarians against New Zealand, although that would still leave them with a place to fill and no obvious candidate.

Llanelli's Mark Perego showed up prominently last night and could play at blind side, although Davies could opt to leave Quinnell at No 6 and bring in a new No 8.

Neath's Steve Williams, one of four players who missed the training session through injury, would be the leading candidate, but an interesting addition to the squad last night was the former Glamorgan Wanderers player, Lyndon James. The 6ft 7in James has played for Cognac in the French league for the past five seasons and did not look out of place among the cream of Welsh forwards last night.

Whatever happens, the selectors must get it right for Davies, Norster and Jenkins on 15 January. For if Wales fail again, especially following the 26-24 home defeat by Canada last month, there is every likelihood of the general committee making changes on the coaching front.

After such a perfect start to the year with victory over England, 1993 gradually got worse and worse for Davies. There were three successive defeats in the Five Nations following that morale-booster against the old enemy and then there was the catastrophic defeat by Canada following four straight wins over minor opposition - Zimbabwe twice, Namibia and Japan.

But unless Wales can hold their own against a Scottish side who will be seeking to resurrect their own fortunes in Cardiff following their 50- point hammering by New Zealand, Davies' position may be in doubt.

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