Rugby Union: Welsh divide to bridge gap

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The Independent Online
IT IS, the Welsh insist, no trial but what is certain is that the players in the East and West Wales teams named yesterday to play each other in Cardiff on 28 December will be on trial. If they were not, there would not be much point.

This is a commendable venture by the Welsh Rugby Union, trying to bridge the gap between club and representative rugby and thereby further rid Welsh rugby of its intrinsic parochialism. Even so, the notion that those on view at the Arms Park will develop an East or West identity is faintly ridiculous however deep the east- west divide may have been in the past.

And while the fixture will perform a most useful function by bringing together the best of the Welsh in a representative, highly competitive setting, it can hardly be called a 'provincial' championship when there are only two participant teams. One of the English Divisional Championship's greatest difficulties is that there are only four.

The qualification criterion is birth or residence rather than club, which is conveniently flexible for selectors wishing to watch their best players. This is why clubmates are facing each other and why Rupert Moon of Llanelli leads the East rather than the West, on the grounds that he lives - lately amid the floods - at Pontypridd.

As a native of Walsall, he would also qualify for the West; the West Midlands, that is. For these purposes, Bridgend is classed as occidental rather than oriental. Hence Mike Hall's selection for the West although he plays for, and lives in, Cardiff. Similar reasoning applies to Jenkins, Llewellyn and Copsey on the East side.

'The game provides the perfect setting for players to show how much they have developed,' Robert Norster, the Wales manager, said yesterday. 'Some people have described it as a mock trial. That does the fixture a complete disservice.' No, not a mock trial but in fact a very real one.

A rib injury yesterday caused Andy Macfarlane's withdrawal from the North team against the South-West at Kirkstall tomorrow. Matthew Greenwood moves to No 8, with Northampton's newcomer from Newcastle, Peter Walton, coming in on the blind side. Mike Jackson, of Fylde, replaces Gerry Ainscough among the replacements.

Andrew Harriman will miss playing for London against the Midlands in the other Divisional Championship match at Sudbury with a leg injury. The promising Saracen Darren O'Leary is introduced on the left wing, with Steve Pilgrim switching to the right.

Independent Television announced yesterday that it would have live coverage in the small hours of the morning of all three of the Lions' Tests in New Zealand next summer - and will repeat the games, as live, later in the day. ITV will also show highlights of each of the other 10 tour matches, with the whole package sponsored for pounds 600,000 by the insurance company Scottish Provident.

WEST WALES (v East Wales, Cardiff, 28 December): I Jones; I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), W Proctor; C Stephens (Llanelli), R Jones (Swansea); R Evans (Llanelli), A Thomas (Neath), H Williams- Jones (South Wales Police), P Davies (Llanelli), P Arnold, A Reynolds, S Davies, R Webster (Swansea). Replacements: R Howley (Bridgend), A Davies (Cardiff), K Phillips, J Davies (Neath), L Harvey (Maesteg), M Perego (Llanelli).

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), G Jenkins (Swansea), L Mustoe (Pontypool), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey (Llanelli), M Budd (Cardiff), S Legge (South Wales Police), G George (Newport). Replacements: P John (Pontypridd), L Evans (Bridgend), S Hill (Cardiff), N Meek (Pontypool), I Buckett (Oxford University), P Kawulok (Cardiff).

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