Rugby Union: Welsh work ethic wins team unity

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THERE will be no shirking from the Welsh players in the build-up to their Five Nations' Championship opener against Scotland on Saturday. After three days in camp last week, culminating in a full-scale practice game on Saturday, Ieuan Evans and his fellow backs were offered the opportunity of having a night off training tonight, but they refused.

The coach Alan Davies was due to work with his forwards on scrummaging technique, but Evans, the skipper, decided that everyone should be involved. It means the full squad of 21 players will turn up at the Welsh Institute of Sport tonight for their fifth training session in five days.

'We are a team and we should stick together. The build-up to the game has been going very well and we can all do with a bit more practice to blend the team spirit,' Evans said. 'We've got nothing to fear against the Scots, and we shouldn't fear any side we play. We are two teams short on confidence at the moment, but with one or two wins behind us just watch this Welsh team develop.'

The Welsh team will gather on Wednesday to finalise their preparations for the game against Scotland and will undergo three more training sessions before they start an unprecedented year of international rugby that will include 13 Test matches.

The weekend get-together of the Welsh squad meant a curtailed fixture list in the Heineken League, but there was joy for two under-fire Gwent clubs in the First Division matches that were played. Pontypool, once the great power in British rugby, had one of their best moments of the season with a 14-5 victory at Newport, while Newbridge climbed two places in table thanks to their 19-6 win in the basement battle with Aberavon.

It was three penalties by Mark Ring that set Pontypool on course for a victory which moved them out of the bottom two in the table. At Newbridge it took two tries from the flanker Peter Crane to inspire the home side and lift them further away from the relegation zone.