Wales welcome prospect of Woodward visit

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The Independent Online

Notable absentees from a 29-man training squad announced by the Wales coach Mike Ruddock - the Llanelli Scarlets backs Matthew Watkins and Michael Phillips, for instance, both of whom have the capability to push the Red Dragonhood a long way up the mountainside - may be summoned in good time for this autumn's series of international fixtures, assuming their form continues to warrant such promotion. The most influential late arrival will be English, however. He goes by the name of Woodward, and is said to know a thing or two about Test rugby.

Sir Clive - for it is he - plans to join the Welsh set-up during their build-up to the match with New Zealand in Cardiff on 20 November as part of his preparations for the British and Irish Lions' tour of All Black country next summer. During his long spell as head coach and manager of England, Woodward's popularity on the far side of the Severn Bridge could be detected only with the aid of a microscope. Now he is finally free of his red-rose bonds, Ruddock intends to welcome him with open arms.

"I don't necessarily think Clive will be too involved in the coaching, because we will be in week three of our autumn programme and it would be difficult for the players if a new coach suddenly appeared," Ruddock said yesterday.

"I hope it will be more about Clive's presence rubbing off on the squad. I haven't spoken to him about this, but he might be willing to talk about what makes a winning player and a winning team. He had a difficult start with England, and a tough time at the 1999 World Cup, but he analysed the ways in which it was going wrong and worked out how to improve things, to the point that he won the World Cup in 2003. That process is significant to me. You never stop learning, and it would be foolish if we didn't look at all aspects of how we might improve."

Ruddock included two uncapped players, the 6ft 9in Newport-Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris and the Neath-Swansea Ospreys flanker Ryan Jones, in his party, along with the inventive Cardiff Blues wing Craig Morgan, whose previous association with the national team ended the best part of 18 months ago. Three Welshmen who upped sticks and moved to France at the end of last season - the full-back Gareth Thomas, the outside-half Stephen Jones and the venerable lock Gareth Llewellyn - are all on board.

The contest for the right to host the 2011 World Cup took an unexpected turn when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union indicated they might join South Africa and Japan in tabling a bid. The New Zealanders had initially been granted joint-host status with Australia for last year's tournament, but were kicked into touch by the organisers after an unprecedentedly vulgar argument over money.

Wales training squad for autumn Tests against New Zealand, South Africa, Romania and Japan.

Backs: G Thomas (Toulouse), S Williams (Neath-Swansea), R Williams (Cardiff), C Morgan (Cardiff), M Taylor (Llanelli), G Henson (Neath-Swansea), S Parker (Neath-Swansea), T Shanklin (Cardiff), S Jones (Montferrand), C Sweeney (Newport-Gwent), D Peel (Llanelli), G Cooper (Dragons).

Forwards: Duncan Jones (Neath-Swansea), I Thomas (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Cardiff), A Jones (Neath-Swansea), G Williams (Cardiff), M Davies (Neath-Swansea), B Cockbain (Neath-Swansea), M Owen (Dragons), L Charteris (Dragons), G Llewellyn (Narbonne), R Sidoli (Cardiff), J Thomas (Neath-Swansea), Dafydd Jones (Llanelli), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Williams (Cardiff), R Jones (Neath-Swansea), A Popham (Leeds).