Peel at ease over Wales' captain role

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The Independent Online

If there was widespread confusion in Wales surrounding the exact purpose and plan behind the national team's World Cup build-up before yesterday, then Gareth Jenkins's selection for Sunday's opening fixture with Canada only piled further brown stuff into those muddy waters.

The coach has elected to leave his captain, Gareth Thomas, on the bench, where he will be joined by four other former coin-tossers in Stephen Jones, Duncan Jones, Michael Owen and Colin Charvis. In the starting XV only Martyn Williams has worn the armband before and he is not the choice this time.

That honour will fall on the slight, but brilliant shoulders of the scrum-half Dwayne Peel, who confessed that he had been harbouring an inkling of Jenkins's decision. Well, at least someone was. "I'm not nervous, as Gareth had told me to expect to be captain at some stage during the tournament," said the 26-year-old who will be winning his 56th cap against the Canucks. "I don't think I'll be having to come up with a particularly inspiring team-talk. And it's nice to know there is such experience around me that I can use before and during the game."

It seems certain that, at the very least ,Thomas and Stephen Jones will be called upon out of that "gang of five" at some stage during the lunchtime encounter in Nantes. Jenkins denied that Thomas was rested because of the beating he received at the fierce hands of the French in Cardiff a fortnight ago – he required 20 stitches and was carried off the pitch on a stretcher – but did confess that part of the reasoning behind Sonny Parker's inclusion at inside centre was down to what might happen if Wales did lose their leading cap-winner of all time.

"If Gareth Thomas is struck down in training we need to know what we have available in the No 12 position," said Jenkins. He might also look at Stephen Jones in that role, especially as James Hook has filled in so ably in the playmakers' spot in the warm-up matches after the Scarlets No 10 suffered a hip injury in summer training camp.

All this "experimental" talk is, of course, dependant on the Canadians being a pushover, an eventuality which their confident coach, Ric Suggit, has stressed will not be coming to pass. For his part, Jenkins declared he knew all about the might of the north Americans and was not dabbling in a dangerous game of underestimation.

"We are absolutely clear this is going to be one of our toughest games," he said. "But rotation will be the key word for every team in this tournament. You probably won't see our strongest team on the park until the last eight." If, indeed, Wales get that far.

Wales v Canada (Nantes, Sunday): K Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); J Hook (Ospreys), D Peel (Scarlets, capt); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), A Popham (Scarlets). Replacements: T Rhys Thomas (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), M Owen (Dragons), C Charvis (Dragons), M Phillips (Ospreys), S Jones (Scarlets), G Thomas (Blues).

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