Ruck and Maul: Memorial Stadium a fitting stage for Welsh after loss of Merv the Swerve


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The Independent Online

London Welsh's first match after the death of their great former No 8 Mervyn Davies will be at Bristol's Memorial Stadium this afternoon. Davies won his first 19 Wales caps while playing for the Exiles, whom he joined when he was a PE teacher in Surrey in 1968, and the second 19 with his home-town side, Swansea.

Both clubs had regular fixtures with Bristol. "Merv the Swerve" was amazingly self-effacing. Of his initial selection for London Welsh's first team, a few weeks before Wales capped him, he said: "Someone knew there was this lanky streak of rubbish playing for the seconds who could win the ball in the line-out." The entire rugby world including Lions opponents in New Zealand and South Africa soon got the message that TM Davies could do everything else expected of a No 8, brilliantly and consistently.

Stiff upper helps Wood cope

The England flanker Tom Wood is wearing specially stiffened boots to cope with the foot injury that denied him the chance to captain his country in the Six Nations.

Wood was Stuart Lancaster's first choice as national skipper but was laid low in January and missedeight weeks before returning for Northampton at Saracens on 4 February, complete with the reinforced boot he will wear in today's LV Cup final against Leicester Tigers at Worcester, where qualification for next season's Heineken Cup will be at stake.

"The boots are as stiff as hell and stop my foot getting into certain positions which would put pressure on the area around my big toe," said Wood, 25. "Unfortunately, I have bird feet with a massive high arch and really flexible toes, so you can imagine all the pressure that is going through to my toes when I run and try to push off the ground.

"With the usual flexible boots I just didn't have the strength in my toes to do what I needed on a pitch. But the new boots help to stop me getting into that exposed position. The medics and everyone else took the decision to make sure I got some rest. It was a tough decision but it had to be done and, hopefully, it might add some time to the end of my career. It was desperately disappointing to miss all those big games for Saints and England. Now I want to put myself back in the frame by doing well for Northampton. It's frustrating sitting on the sofa watching."

Rees wasn't the retiring type

A different outcome for Tom Rees, the Wasps and England flanker who has called time on his perennial battles with injury. Ruck and Maul recalls being in Perpignan in October 2006 when Rees's shoulder gave way, costing him an England call-up. He took the setback with typical stoicism and recovered to play in Wasps' Heineken Cup final defeat of Leicester that season and win 15 caps, playing against each of England's Six Nations and Sanzar opponents. But the strength of his joints – a knee finished him – did not match his talent for the openside position. Rees, 27, was long tipped as an England captain; he plans now to be a doctor. Wasps have examined their training and medical routines and insist everything is in order despite losing Rees, Dan Ward-Smith and Joe Worsley along with the recently joined Steve Thompson to early retirement this season.

Vote for change

Time, surely, for the Six Nations organisers to abandon the ludicrous method of choosing the player of the championship. As last year, the public can vote only for the recipients of the 12 man-of-the-match awards from the first four weekends. So England have no players on the shortlist but Yoann Maestri of France is in there. It's a mystery how one good display qualifies anyone to be player of the championship. Italy's Andrea Masi was the winner in 2011. Enough said?