Rugby World Cup: Graham loyal to tried and trusted

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The Independent Online
IT WILL get more difficult on the selection front, but Graham Henry is quite aware of that. The Great Redeemer is, after all, aware of most things. Just for the time being, though, the Wales coach is happy to take whatever easy options are available to him, hence his decision to name an unchanged line-up for the World Cup curtain-raiser with Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Friday afternoon.

Only Allan Bateman, the former Great Britain rugby league international and supremely flexible all-purpose three-quarter, was not considered for selection, but even had he not suffered a minor bout of tendinitis in his foot, he would not have made the starting XV. It took Henry about the time it takes to boil a kettle to decide that the unit that recorded the 34-23 victory over France in Cardiff last month should be retained en bloc.

There is one significant development among the replacements, though. Jason Jones-Hughes, the uncapped Australian midfielder who was the subject of that infamous tug-of-love between the Wallabies and the Dragons, will replace Bateman on the bench. "He performs the Bateman role, in that he can play at centre or on the wing," explained Henry. "You need utility players capable of covering all eventualities and Jason has trained extremely well since joining the squad."

Henry's decision reinforced the first-choice status of two thirtysomething stalwarts of the front row, Garin Jenkins and David Young. "We've been reasonably solid in our recent performances and I think it's important to show some consistency," said the New Zealander. "It helps a team to perform when the players know each other well."

Certainly, the two long-serving scrummagers are familiar enough. Jenkins will win his 47th cap against the Pumas, Young his 36th.

Together with Peter Rogers, the South African-reared loose head who himself passed the 30 mark this year, Jenkins and Young took the renowned Argentinian set-piece to the cleaners in Buenos Aires during the summer.

Ever the strategist, Henry has spent the last few weeks plotting how the Pumas might adapt their approach to take account of Wales' new-found confidence at the sharp end. "They haven't enjoyed a good run with their traditional game and I think they've decided to play more with the ball in hand," he said. "They'll be a more potent side for it, especially as they now have a back [Lisandro Arbizu], rather than a forward [Pedro Sporleder] as captain. The change has given them some brains in the leadership department."

As the first salvo in his tactical contest with his fellow New Zealander, Alex "Grizz" Wyllie, it was fairly gentle. We await the Puma coach's response with interest.

WALES: S Howarth (Newport); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), B Sinkinson (Neath).

Replacements: J Jones-Hughes (New South Wales), S Jones (Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Newport), M Voyle (Llanelli), B Evans (Swansea), A Lewis (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff).