No mercy for Powell but Delve ends his long wait

Disgraced back-rower is overlooked as Gloucester man's patience is rewarded
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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland admitted yesterday that he considered recalling the suspended Andy Powell to fill in for his injured captain, Ryan Jones, at Croke Park on Saturday. But in the end the Wales coach opted for a back-rower whose journey to his first Championship start has been akin to a golf-buggy ride down the M4 – slow.

Gareth Delve was first selected for a Wales Six Nations squad in 2003. And now, seven years and five coaches later, he has finally made it to the match-day XV. The 27-year-old plays against Ireland at No 8, alongside Martyn Williams, the evergreen openside who appropriately takes possession of the armband on the day he becomes his country's most-capped forward with 95. Jones has been suffering with a calf strain and cannot train. So in comes Delve and out stays Powell.

"We did have a discussion about bringing Andy back in, but we just felt Gareth is able to give us something a little bit different," said Gatland. That may come as a surprise seeing how ruthless the Kiwi was in ejecting Powell following his infamous drink-driving escapade after the dramatic win against Scotland. Delve has apparently been preferred on form alone, yet although his recent performances as Gloucester captain have been crying out for international recognition, there may be more to it than that.

Delve is one of the Northern Hemisphere players being chased by the newly formed Melbourne Rebels. He was understood to be close to signing. But then came the Wales call after his side's match at Wasps on Sunday and suddenly he was presented with a huge dilemma. Does he join superstars such as Danny Cipriani Down Under? Or does he hang around, take up the Cardiff Blues's offer and try to fulfil a long-held World Cup dream. Gatland knows what he wants and this wily campaigner has perhaps been very clever in delivering Delve his taster.

"I'd obviously like him playing in Wales," said Gatland. "Yeah, this could convince him to stay. There's a lot for him to play over the next 18 months or so, if he gives a big performance on Saturday. It's a big game for him."

Delve is plainly confused. "I'm still trying to work out where I stand," he said. "Certainly the World Cup weighs massively on the side of staying here. But in terms of international aspirations I spent a long time feeling disappointed. I'd come off the bench, play well and then either pick up a knock or not be involved in the next game. So I'm certainly not counting any chickens."

Delve has won only nine caps, eight as a replacement, and he has not played for Gatland since making four run-ons from the bench in the 2008 Grand Slam. Injuries have played their part, but the time could at last be nigh for this destructive ball-carrier. Gatland will be praying it is as Wales are also without their marauding scrum-half Mike Phillips, who bruised his shin playing for the Ospreys – his first start in five month after a ankle problem. Like Jones, Phillips will not be risked.

Injuries have blighted Wales' campaign almost as much as their sluggish start. In all, Gatland is missing five players who featured on the Lions tour last summer. In contrast, Ireland are operating at full strength as they eye the Triple Crown. Declan Kidney has remained faithful to the side who beat England, with Brian O'Driscoll winning his 100th cap.

Teams for Croke Park (Saturday, 2.30pm, BBC1): Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Buckley (Munster), L Cullen (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster).

Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), J Roberts (Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), R Rees (Blues); P James (Ospreys), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), L Charteris (Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues, capt), G Delve (Gloucester). Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), R Gill (Saracens), I Gough (Ospreys), S Warburton (Blues), D Peel (Sale), A Bishop (Ospreys), T Shanklin (Blues).

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)