Rugby: Walker out of Wales' SA squad

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The Independent Online
The former Olympic hurdler Nigel Walker bounded back from injury with three tries for Cardiff against the Barbarians but then found there remains a weakness in his injured shoulder and so yesterday missed selection as one of the wings in Wales's World Cup squad.

"It was too much of a risk to go to South Africa with him," Alex Evans, the new Wales coach, said sorrowfully. Walker was one of three absentees from the provisional squad of 32 who were considered for the final 26; both the other two, the first-choice props Ricky Evans and John Davies, have been chosen.

Evans has not played since breaking his leg in the French match in January and Davies since being sent off against England in February. By the time Wales first put on their revised, more traditionally styled red jerseys to play Japan on 27 May, Evans and Davies expect to be as fully prepared as anyone in the squad. Wales go on to play New Zealand on 31 May and Ireland on 4 June.

Even without Walker, Cardiff have 11 representatives, though Alex Evans - who is also coaching director of the Heineken League's champions-apparent - was at pains yesterday to stress his and all the other selectors' objectivity. His assistants, Mike Ruddock and Dennis John, are coaches of Swansea and Pontypridd respectively.

In John's case the World Cup choice had the poignant effect of grievously disappointing his own son. Paul John, the Pontypridd scrum-half, lost out to Cardiff's Oxford Blue, Andy Moore, and the man in possession, Robert Jones, when the selectors permed their two from three.

John Snr found a diplomatic way of suggesting that his son really should have been included: "Paul is in a difficult position that his father is a selector but he has probably been the most consistent scrum-half in Wales throughout the season.''

Moore has risen from fifth-choice scrum-half at best to become one of seven uncapped players in a squad long on coltish exuberance but short on experience - which, in view of Wales's misfortunes during a Five Nations whitewash, may be just as well.

"We have a mixture of talented young players who are not carrying any of the baggage of past failures this season, and their optimism is rubbing off on everyone else," Mike Hall, the new captain, said. "But we have to be careful. Because we have a new coach, selectors and squad everybody is bound to be optimistic but we still have to justify it.''

Meanwhile, most of the Welsh players will continue to knock lumps out of each other in Saturday's semi-finals of the Swalec Cup as well as the final and, in between, a last round of league fixtures.

No question, then, of sitting out games English-style. "In an ideal world we probably would not have that run of games now," Geoff Evans, the manager, conceded. "But it's not an ideal world." This sentiment would be echoed by the lock Gareth Llewellyn and outside-half Neil Jenkins, two senior players who are likely to be asked to play out of position in South Africa. Alex Evans fancies using Llewellyn in the back row, probably on the blind side, and Jenkins at inside centre.

WALES WORLD CUP SQUAD: Full-backs: A Clement (Swansea), J Thomas (Cardiff Institute); Wings: I Evans (Llanelli), S Ford (Cardiff), W Proctor (Llanelli); Centres: D Evans (Treorchy), M Hall (Cardiff, capt), G Thomas (Bridgend); Outside-halves: A Davies (Cardiff), N Jenkins (Pontypridd); Scrum-halves: R Jones (Swansea), A Moore (Cardiff). Props: J Davies (Neath), R Evans (Llanelli), M Griffiths (Cardiff), S John (Llanelli); Hookers: J Humphreys (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea); Locks: D Jones (Cardiff), G Prosser (Pontypridd), S Roy (Cardiff); Back row: M Bennett (Cardiff), S Davies (Swansea), E Lewis, H Taylor, O Williams (Cardiff).