Rugby Union: Wembley the Celtic watershed

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The Independent Online
LAST weekend I did what all Welsh rugby lovers would have wanted to do - I flew to the other side of the world. In the very good company of Gareth Edwards and Gareth Davies, I joined the official delegation for "Wales Week" in Sydney and we were delighted to leave all the wailing behind.

But there are some things you cannot escape from and getting 60 points stuck on you by England is one of them. We were supposed to be helping to promote Wales as a great place to visit for next year's Rugby World Cup - and so we have - but we have spent much of the time fending off wicked Australian mickey-taking, especially from David Campese who joined us for a photo-session.

I pointed out that it was the country we had come to boast about, not the rugby team, but you cannot blame the Aussies for taking advantage of the discomfort of their old adversaries. We did, however, fight back gamely. Gareth Edwards was happy to tell them that he never played on the losing side against Australia while I reminded them of the 1987 World Cup when we beat them in the third-place play-off.

Wales have drifted a long way down since then and it is impossible to mount much of a defence of such a ghastly result. But worse could be on the way at Wembley on Saturday. Our "home" match against Scotland has, for both teams, a far greater disaster potential even than last weekend's maulings.

By now both of these shell-shocked squads should have realised that Wembley offers one of them a chance of redeeming themselves. But the pressure is going to be tremendous, because the loser is going to be stranded in a deep black hole of despair. For the winner, the chance to finish top Celtic nation will be some consolation.

For Scotland, a victory would also mean that the Triple Crown was on. That would give them something to cling to and they do have a knack of upsetting England at Murrayfield. This may be clutching at straws but they haven't much else to clutch.

I fancy Wales will make the better recovery. At least, they have the memory of the first 20 minutes at Twickenham when they played exceptionally well. What happened then is difficult to define. The intensity of effort, the concentration and discipline seemed to drain from them.

It seemed to turn on one incident when Matt Perry called a mark when catching a weak kick from Arwel Thomas. He was in the middle of the field and it would have been difficult for him to make much yardage but the Welsh obviously didn't give the matter any thought and disgracefully turned their backs, leaving Perry with an open invitation to tap and run. Suddenly, England were all over them with a display of enthusiasm and motivation that put the Welsh forwards to shame.

But it was in defence that the real atrocities were committed, and I hope and pray that the Welsh have been working hard on their defensive patterns. There were very basic errors, particularly when David Rees twice cut inside without a tackler getting anywhere near him. They were both from first-phase ball and in an international match it should be very difficult to score from that situation, because every defender should be picking up his man.

England played splendidly but their tactics were straightforward and should not have caused such confusion in an international defence. The worrying thing for the Welsh and the Scots was that the pace of their opponents was such a problem. Both countries have got to keep playing in Europe in order to develop a faster game. Forwards have got to get around the park quicker, especially when hitting the rucks and mauls.

I would expect changes in both sides. Their A teams won their matches so promotion for some is in order. I felt sorry for Neil Jenkins, who was cruelly exposed at full-back. He should be returned to stand-off, although it may be an opportunity for Byron Hayward. Neil and Arwel Thomas are regarded as better players but they are not performing at their best.

Mike Rayer would be a sound choice at full-back if they don't think young Kevin Morgan is ready. Wayne Proctor is another option. John Humphreys or Garin Jenkins should come in at hooker, Craig Quinnell and Andy Moore should be the second row and I would have Emyr Lewis at No 8, Scott Quinnell at No 6 and Charvis or Martyn Williams at No 7. But, more than anything, I want to see more pride and passion in the team. Modern coaching is all very well but sometimes I think we lose sight of what traditionally drives Welsh teams to glory.