Rugby Union: Walker well worth a Five Nations' gamble

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The Independent Online
West Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

East Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

EAST is east and West is west and until yesterday the twain had never met. At the end they were inseparable, each scoring a goal, a try and three penalties. Wales refused to call this a boring old trial, dressing it up as an innovative fixture that would settle decades of argument but more importantly provide a stepping stone between club and international rugby.

Certainly, the marketing arm of the Welsh Rugby Union worked overtime in an attempt to lure people on a Bank Holiday from the sales in Cardiff, which was packed, to the Arms Park, which was half empty. Ticket prices were dramatically reduced and the attendance was given as 23,600. They were treated to razzmatazz more commonly associated with Tampa Bay than Tiger Bay. Christmas crackers were distributed, fireworks and thunder flashes exploded over the stadium and the teams were roused by the Crown Jewels, cheerleaders complete with pom-poms and the female equivalent of long johns.

The cold war between West (in amber) and East (in purple) produced a surprisingly vigorous and enterprising match which might have been more satisfying but for the curious choice of Alain Cuq, the French referee who was in charge of the shocker between Neath and Australia. His intepretation of the new laws is at best confusing, at worst non-existent.

There were, inevitably, withdrawals, and the absence of Robert Jones and Colin Stephens from the West Wales side gave Robert Howley and Adrian Davies a chance to share centre stage. Between Davies and Neil Jenkins there was little to choose, but Howley raised his game to such a degree in the second half he won the man of the match award. It was just as well for the all-Swansea back row that Howley was with them rather than against them, for in defence they were far from secure. The ease with which Sean Legge created a try for Howard Stone from a scrum was disturbing.

There was one player, however, above all who matched the incandescence of the pre-match entertainment. The burning question confronting the Wales coach, Alan Davies, is whether to let Nigel Walker loose on the Five Nations' Championship. The former Olympic hurdler is not the finished product but he is a finisher, as his dozen league tries for Cardiff this season has shown.

At 29, he has returned to rugby after 11 years in athletics. He may be naive, but he is not rusty. Whenever he touched the ball yesterday the purple haze touched a nerve in the crowd and his first pass, expertly delivered by Mark Ring, should have produced a try for Roger Bidgood. Bidgood knocked on and then had a pass intercepted, which resulted in a try for Mike Hall. In the space of a couple of minutes Bidgood's hands cost the East at least 12 points. Walker's legs continued to worry the West and given half a yard he is extremely dangerous and unorthodox. And worth a gamble.

Stuart Davies, the West captain, said the vast majority of the players were in favour of the concept but not at Christmas. Alan Davies, who would like to see the West and East Wales sides play in England's Divisional Championship, said that if Wales are to become a force it can only be achieved through representative games on a higher level than club rugby. Trial and error, but don't mention trial.

East Wales: Tries Stone, Copsey; Conversion Jenkins; Penalties Jenkins 3. West Wales: Tries Hall, A Davies; Conversion A Davies; Penalties A Davies 3.

EAST WALES: M Rayer (Cardiff); A Harries (Newbridge), R Bidgood (Newport), M Ring, N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon (Llanelli, capt); M Griffiths (Cardiff), N Meek, L Mustoe (Pontypool), G Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey (Llanelli), H Stone (Cardiff), S Legge (South Wales Police), M Budd (Cardiff). Replacements: P Kawulok (Cardiff) for Copsey, 60; A Moore (Cardiff) for Moon, 69.

WEST WALES: I Jones (Llanelli); S Bowling (Neath), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies, W Proctor (Llanelli); A Davies (Cardiff), R Howley (Bridgend); R Evans (Llanelli), A Thomas (Neath), H Williams- Jones (South Wales Police), P Davies (Llanelli), P Arnold, A Reynolds, S Davies (capt), R Webster (Swansea). Replacements: J Davies (Neath) for Williams-Jones, 70.

Referee: A Cuq (France).