Quins' Jones props up Wales

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The Independent Online

Back in the days of Merve the Swerve and JPR, the Welsh selectors could afford to die laughing at the very notion of a mere Harlequin pushing for a place in the national team. But laughter has been a rare commodity on the far side of the Severn in the professional era, even though the Red Dragonhood raised a smile or two during the latter stages of their World Cup campaign, and if a strong-scrummaging prop from one of the swankier parts of south-west London should suddenly announce himself as a Test contender, he will be welcomed with open arms.

Step forward Ceri Jones, 26, a loose-head prop in revelatory form for Quins. Offered a run of first-team opportunities when Jason Leonard disappeared on England duty and Michael Worsley was struck down by injury and illness, he took his chance with such alacrity that he is now in a position to press for international honours in the Six Nations' Championship.

"We signed Ceri, sight unseen, from Newport last season, just before the transfer deadline, and he's been absolutely terrific for us," said Mark Evans, the Harlequins coach, after Jones' inclusion in a 47-man training squad featuring five other uncapped players - the Llanelli Scarlets full-back, Barry Davies, the Cardiff Blues prop John Yapp, the Gwent Dragons lock Peter Sidoli, the Ospreys flanker Richard Pugh and the 19-year-old Gloucester loose forward James Merriman, whose inexperience can only be described as vast.

With Duncan Jones struggling to overcome his leg injury suffered in the World Cup game with Italy, this latest Jones could find himself pushing for a place in Steve Hansen's XXII come the match with Scotland at the Millennium Stadium on 14 February. "Ceri is certainly an aggressive scrummager - he's been scrumming his head off all season - and he scores tries," Evans added.

Unsurprisingly, Hansen has kept his entire World Cup party, which ended the competition with bold attacking performances against both New Zealand and England. The real interest in yesterday's announcement surrounded a batch of creative players added to the main body of the squad - the likes of Jamie Robinson and Craig Morgan, of the Blues, and Matthew Watkins and Michael Phillips, of the Scarlets. Gavin Henson, the Ospreys' outside-half, has been included, in the hope he will fulfil some of his teenage promise.

Unfortunately, the injury-prone Celtic Warriors full-back, Kevin Morgan, is still a model of self-destructive consistency. He broke a bone in his foot at training yesterday and will miss the meeting with the Scots. Gareth Thomas, in spanking form for the Warriors at centre, may be asked to reacquaint himself with the No 15 jersey.

England, the reigning champions of just about everything, have yet to name a training squad - some red-rose veterans are yet to decide if they will call it a day - but one of the World Cup crew, the Northampton scrum-half, Matthew Dawson, will play this weekend's Heineken Cup tie with a struggling Borders team at Franklin's Gardens, provided he passes tomorrow's fitness test. Dawson has played precious little rugby since returning from Australia.

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