Alan Watkins on Rugby: Wales' hopes take dive with injuries mounting

'For once, I agree with Sir Clive Woodward on something'
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The Independent Online

In the second of these matches, in 1978, Andy Hayden took a pre-arranged dive from the line-out which resulted in a match-winning penalty. Barry John, by then in the press box, described the episode as "pure Hollywood". The referee on this occasion, the Englishman Roger Quittenton, did not share this opinion and, thereafter, was not a welcome visitor in the Principality.

In fact, he was one of the best referees of the post-war period, even if he was a touch on the vain side. But on this occasion he got it wrong, that is all. Whether other referees would have spotted Hayden's deception (to which he has made a full and frank, even if belated, confession) is a debatable point. But others in the press box besides John thought the New Zealand forward had taken a dive.

Oddly enough, unless I misjudge the mood of my countrymen, the incident has not left a bitter taste. It is regarded more as a piece of gamesmanship that happened to come off. In this respect it is different from the spear-tackle in the first Lions Test which could have paralysed Brian O'Driscoll for life. Here the anger persists, as one of the perpetrators, Tana Umaga, may discover next time he puts in an appearance in Dublin.

In the two decades and more that followed Andy Hayden's (or Roger Quittenton's) match, New Zealand had things more or less their own way. It is only in the last two matches that Wales have provided cause for apprehension on their part. The first of these occurred during the World Cup, and may be said to mark the beginning of the latest Welsh revival.

It all happened by accident. Wales were guaranteed a quarter-final place against England. Accordingly the lugubrious Steve Hansen, the coach at the time, decided to pick a largely experimental side for the group match against New Zealand. For example, Shane Williams, who had hitherto been regarded as "too small" for serious rugby, and had been taken on the trip as cover for scrum-half as well as on the wing, was given a rare chance. He took it, as he did with his next opportunity, against England. He has been a fixture in the Wales side ever since.

Last autumn saw a repetition of the World Cup pattern: a fine performance, which had only one thing wrong with it. Wales failed to win. Since then there have been an unexpected Grand Slam, where you could have obtained odds of 33-1, and a miserable Lions tour of New Zealand. At any rate, it was miserable for some, notably Gavin Henson, though the late entrant Ryan Jones tells us that he enjoyed himself enormously.

I am writing this before Mike Ruddock, the Wales coach, announces his side for the game on Saturday. But it is certain that these two will not be among those selected on account of injury. There is a sense in which Jones will not be missed too much: for once, Wales have a luxury of choice at No 8. Ruddock would have been faced with the decision of playing Jones at No 6 and Michael Owen at No 8, or the other way about, or dropping one of them, or returning Owen to the second row, from which Ruddock rescued him in the first place.

It is good news that Stephen Jones turned out for Clermont-Auvergne against the Ospreys on Sunday and kicked four conversions; less good news that his partner, Dwayne Peel, has not played for Llanelli for many weeks.

For once, I agree with Sir Clive Woodward about something. Tom Shanklin is better placed as a wing than as a centre. Wing is where I would play him, with Gareth Thomas at outside centre, where he originally was at Bridgend, rather than on the wing or at full-back, where he played for Toulouse on Sunday. Alas, it is all theory: for Shanklin is injured and so, too, is Gethin Jenkins.

I am sure that Ruddock wishes he could say: Take up thy bed and walk. Unfortunately for him, the age of miracles is past. So I shall not be risking any money on Wales.