Jonathan Davies: Anyone but Jonny to take Johnno's place

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The Independent Online

We are in the middle of exciting and intriguing times, in England and in Wales. Martin Johnson has picked this moment to depart international rugby, and it is a perfect time for him to go, in the wake of the World Cup. In Wales, something further has to give, I believe, to make the most of what I see already as the success of the regional system.

Johnson is still one of the world's best second-rows, and he could have played on for his country. Sir Clive Woodward would have been on perfectly safe ground if he had quietly allowed his captain - a man who has led Woodward's team to great heights - to have a last crack at the Six Nations' Championship, but forget the summer tour.

Instead, England have a situation vacant, and I feel that the post should be advertised as a temporary one. Johnson, clearly, was not going to carry on to the next World Cup, but then will Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Neil Back or Matt Dawson? Yet any one of them would do fine for now. I certainly wouldn't give it to Jonny Wilkinson, who has enough responsibility as it is. Clive may choose to allocate it game by game, or for the season, including the tour. Whatever happens, Johnson will be missed more than anything for his presence as a marvellous player.

Dallaglio was in Wales with his club on Friday night and, like everyone else, found there is a heart beating strongly here, given the right circumstances. Bridgend's Brewery Field was almost full, and the Celtic Warriors gave Dallaglio's Wasps what is referred to euphemisti-cally as a physical challenge. By which I mean they had a right old go at them, with Dallaglio personally on the receiving end.

Fair play to Wasps and their captain: their pack took over, they used a better kicking game, and took their penalties. It was a match Wasps knew they had to win, and they put the previous week's defeat behind them, with less ball in hand and more kicking.

But the Warriors' performance in winning the first match at High Wycombe made a lot of people sit up; stand up, even. The aggregate scores between the sides finished level, which is a far cry from last season, when Wasps beat Pontypridd by 25 clear points on aggregate in the Parker Pen Cup. Neither Bridgend nor Pontypridd on their own would have beaten Wasps, and this is precisely why a change was made, for Wales to be competitive at regional and international level. People are starting to realise that, even if the change was forced by financial necessity, it makes sense for rugby too.

So where do we stand? Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys are struggling. The merger between the Warriors and Cardiff is off, not that I thought it was ever really on. It's no secret that I'm close to Peter Thomas, the Cardiff director. His heart is in the right place, but maybe he jumped the gun on this one. He knew the Cardiff region wasn't working, and took a short-sighted view in talking with the Warriors.

The wonderful thing is that, if people are brave enough, we can make more improvements for next season. We can sort the fixtures out, and market the regions properly, which was never going to happen during the World Cup.

The magic number for me is four, and the way I'd get there is to split the Warriors up and put Bridgend with Neath and Swansea, along with Maesteg and Aberavon, and call them the Valley Vikings. I played for Neath for six years and never saw a single osprey, so let's condemn that daft name to the dustbin.

The other half of the Warriors, Pontypridd, would join with Cardiff, as the Cardiff Warriors. It keeps the capital's name, which would satisfy the Arms Park members, and it is a more natural combination. Llanelli Scarlets and Newport-Gwent would stay - the latter as the Steelers, not the Dragons. The semi-pro clubs will support the four regions, and no one needs to feel they have lost their loyalty.

I am bound to say that BBC Wales, with whom I work, would prefer five regions. But as a rugby man, I've got to go for four. In fact, I believe the quartet I'm proposing would have been the original choice, until politics killed it.

As with Johnson and England, the toughest decision in Wales has already been made. Now is the time for fine-tuning.

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