Peel rejoices in second coming
Forgotten scrum-half keen to resurrect his international career against Australia
The list of British rugby's lost talents is as long as it is depressing, and while we know precisely what happened to some of the missing – the disgraced England prop Matt Stevens, for instance – there are others, like the extremely useful Scottish centre Tom Philip, who simply disappear off the face of the sporting earth. Dwayne Peel has a bit of both about him, being high-profile and invisible at the same time. This weekend, when Wales play Australia in Cardiff, the Lions Test scrum-half will attempt to snipe his way back to the forefront of everyone's mind.
With 71 caps to his name, Peel should feel as fulfilled as any player of his generation. He does not. Since the 2007 World Cup, he has made only four starts for Wales – two of them against Samoa and the USA – and has not always been considered worthy of a seat on the bench. He might have had an opportunity to remind the hierarchy of his talents when the All Blacks came strolling into town at the start of the autumn series, but as that match fell outside the International Rugby Board's Test "window", he was not released from Anglo-Welsh Cup duty by Sale.
Many believe his move to the Premiership club from Llanelli marked the start of his problems and the sight of him loafing around among the replacements during a less-than-titanic fixture against Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade just a few hours before the New Zealanders performed their haka in front of a full house at the Millennium Stadium did little to suggest otherwise. If Peel went to England to broaden his horizons, it did not work out the way he planned.
"I was bitterly disappointed that week," he admitted yesterday, referring to the club-versus-country issue. "It was a frustrating time. But things like that are out of my control and anyway, it's gone now. It has been a waiting game for me: waiting for team announcements and taking it from there. Now I have this opportunity, it's for me to make the most of it."
Peel's individual contest with the new Wallaby hot-shot Will Genia should give the crowd something to savour, and as Genia has the top-drawer No 10 Matt Giteau outside him, it is perhaps as well that the Welshman will be working with a quality stand-off of his own. He and Stephen Jones go back a long way, to their shared early days at Stradey Park. Between them, they have amassed 153 caps; in addition, they have played Test rugby together at British and Irish Lions level. Yet it is some considerable time since they were last paired on a starting team sheet.
"It will be good to get back to old ways," admitted Peel, who is widely expected to return to Welsh regional rugby next season. "It would probably be as long ago as 1999 when we played together for the first time, and I was lucky enough to spend seven or eight years alongside him. A partnership grows stronger the more games you play and ours definitely developed over the years: it became instinctive, knowing what each other wanted. But it's been a while since we last linked up, so it's nice to find myself passing a few balls to him again."
When Mike Phillips, who succeeded the 2005 Lions scrum-half Peel when the pick of the British Isles toured South Africa last summer, completes his recovery from long-term injury, he will probably reclaim the shirt sooner rather than later. But Peel is an exceptionally gifted attacking half-back – indeed, the Lions selectors made an error in leaving him behind in May – and this weekend's contest provides him with the perfect stage.
"When we've played the likes of New Zealand and Australia in the past, we've been happy just to compete," he said. "We need to step up and win games like this one if we're realistic about being successful at the 2011 World Cup.
"I think it's a match that will suit my style, because meetings with the Wallabies tend to be quite fast and open. I'm sure we'll spread it around." Just like England, then. Not.
Number of Wales caps won by Dwayne Peel since making his debut in a 53-30 win over Japan in Tokyo in June 2001.
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