Less than four years ago, Dwayne Peel was considered good enough to play Test rugby for the British and Irish Lions against the All Blacks – quite an honour, even if the Lions themselves were considered worse than useless. As recently as last Friday night, Peel (right) turned a trick or two for Sale in the inhospitable surroundings of Thomond Park in Limerick. He is not, however, in the 28-man Wales squad for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. It is a steep and heavy fall, by anyone's standards.
Mike Phillips of Ospreys, who would have toured with the Lions in 2005 if the selectors had shown any sense, and Gareth Cooper of Gloucester are the two No 9s – the direct result, according to the national attack coach Rob Howley, of Peel's lack of game time since leaving Llanelli for the Premiership. "I think he's been struggling with consistency and when I spoke to him last night, he was equally frustrated about it," said Howley, himself a Lions half-back of repute. "It wasn't a great phone call to make, but these are tough decisions and they're done in the best interests of Welsh rugby. Dwayne needs to get on that field as often as possible and strut his stuff."
Only one uncapped player has made the cut: the Cardiff Blues lock Bradley Davies, who gets a chance as a result of a season-ending injury suffered by the aggressive Ospreys second-row forward Ian Evans. The 22-year-old toured South Africa with Wales last summer, but his chances at regional level have been strictly rationed, largely due to the form of the New Zealand import Paul Tito. However, Davies made the most of a rare Heineken Cup opportunity on Sunday by scoring his region's winning try against Gloucester.
Back in the November international window, Wales picked from a 32-man party. Their decision to rein things in suggests they are close to identifying their optimum squad, not just for the 2009 Six Nations but for the lead-in to the next World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. England, bemused as they are, would happily kill to be in their position right now.
If the selectorial surgery was bad news for Peel, it was every bit as grim for the highly-rated young Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard, jettisoned as a result of his club-mate Huw Bennett's return to fitness. Many felt Hibbard had an even-money chance of Lions selection this summer. He will do well to make it now.
On the club front, Bath are one step closer to decamping to Swindon Town's football ground as a result of the Charity Commission's latest pronouncement on the vexed question of development at the Recreation Ground – perhaps the most legally sensitive stretch of sporting land in Europe. The commissioners have rejected the West Country club's plans for a new stadium on the city centre site, although Bath have been invited to resubmit. As things stand, the Rec will not meet the Premiership's minimum criteria for the 2009-10 campaign.Reuse content