Rugby Union: Wales try to rebuild shattered confidence with wholesale changes

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The Independent Online
KEVIN BOWRING, the Wales coach, may have been "embarrassed, hurt and humiliated" by the capitulation of his side during their Five Nations nightmare at Twickenham 11 days ago, but he was emphatic in his insistence yesterday that the Welsh Rugby Union was fully behind his latest attempt to rebuild national morale. It was an uncomfortable moment; as any football manager might have pointed out, Bowring would do far better to keep his employers in front of him, where he can see them.

The former London Welsh flanker is far too shrewd and intelligent an operator not to realise that his backside is squarely on the line following the 60-point seeing-to from England. Bowring has made eight changes, two of them positional, for this weekend's "home" match with Scotland at Wembley and the wholesale renovation work looks and smells as though it was carried out in some dark corner of the Last Chance Saloon.

"My contract runs through to next year's World Cup," said Bowring, fully aware that Richie Dixon, Brian Ashton, Willie Anderson, Dick Best and Bob Dwyer had contracts too. The critical fall-out from Twickenham has been so poisonous as to border on the radioactive and defeat this weekend would generate such public opprobrium that the WRU might feel obliged to act.

Terry Cobner, Wales' director of rugby, set the emotional tone for yesterday's hair-shirt session in Cardiff. "When I go to bed at night, the England disappointment is the last thing I think of; when I wake up in the morning, it's the first thing on my mind," he admitted. Bowring seemed equally prepared to wear his heart on his sleeve as he described the debilitating experience of the last week or so. "It's been so painful, not just for me but for my family and friends," he said.

"The history of the Wales-England fixture means so much to the people here. It represents the small country taking on the might of the big country and when we do well, it lifts the nation. We didn't lift anyone at Twickenham, we let them down." The subtext of his words was clear. He dare not let anyone down this time.

Bowring has placed his immediate future in the hands - or, to be more accurate, the right boot - of Neil Jenkins, who returns at outside-half for the more extravagantly gifted Arwel Thomas. Jenkins' performance at Twickenham in the full-back position he so publicly detests was almost too painful to watch and for the coach to make Thomas one of the scapegoats for an insipid forward display is akin to blaming Van Gogh for a shortage of paintbrushes.

Still, the deed is done; Jenkins' return to life at No 10 may mean fewer moments in the sun for the likes of Allan Bateman and Gareth Thomas, but he is at least capable of playing the percentages sufficiently well to keep the Scots in the dark. To that end, Bowring has beefed up his front five by recalling Garin Jenkins at hooker, and Andy Moore, the restart specialist, at lock.

Other changes see Kevin Morgan at full-back and a reshaped back row featuring Kingsley Jones, the Ebbw Vale captain, alongside two more Swansea men, Rob Appleyard and Colin Charvis. That means a pointed relegation for Scott Quinnell, whose contribution at Twickenham subsided from the intermittent to the non- existent.

Ireland, meanwhile, have recalled Eric Elwood and Conor McGuinness at half-back for their thankless trip to France. Rob Henderson replaces the injured Mark McCall at centre while Victor Costello fills in for the flu- ridden Eric Miller at No 8. The new coach, Warren Gatland, will choose between two open-side flankers, Kieron Dawson and the uncapped Andy Ward, later this week.

Wales team

(v Scotland, Wembley, Saturday)

K Morgan (Pontypridd)

W Proctor (Llanelli)

A Bateman (Richmond)

S Gibbs (Swansea)

G Thomas (Cardiff)

N Jenkins (Pontypridd)

R Howley (Cardiff, capt)

A Lewis (Cardiff)

G Jenkins (Swansea)

D Young (Cardiff)

M Voyle (Llanelli)

A Moore (Swansea)

R Appleyard (Swansea)

K Jones (Ebbw Vale)

C Charvis (Swansea)

Replacements: L Davies (Cardiff), A Thomas (Swansea), P John (Pontypridd), S Quinnell (Richmond), S Roy (Pontypridd), L Mustoe (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff).