Wales wrestle with Charvis conundrum

Pilloried last season, the clubless captain now carries a nation's hopes. Tim Glover talks to him

While England have taken "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" to their Red Rose hearts, Wales have adopted the Liverpool anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" as one of their favourite team songs. Perhaps they are sending a message to Colin Charvis.

The Wales captain will create a little piece of history when he leads his country into the World Cup next month as the loneliest of the long-distance runners. Charvis, in club terms, is of no fixed abode. When Wales play Canada in Melbourne on 12 October the match programme will read: C Charvis (captain, unattached).

Today he will return to his exile in Swansea after spending the week with Wales at a training camp in Lanzarote. "Gruelling" is the word Charvis used to describe a daily schedule that began with a weights session at 6.30am and finished in the evening with video analysis.

"We have been in a fairly desolate place in the middle of nowhere,'' Charvis said. "It's not the sort of place you would want to come to on holiday. We have put in a lot of hard work, but if we want to compete with the best in the world we have to put ourselves through that kind of regime. It has been a question of survival for us.''

The seven-day camp was intended to acclimatise the squad to the warm weather expected in Australia, even though the temperature in Britain was similar to that in Lanzarote. "The purpose was to get as much specific rugby training in as possible while maintaining a high level of physical work,'' Steve Hansen, the coach, explained. "We have been keeping it intense so that we will be able to give the players a less demanding week, which includes some time with their families, before we leave for the tournament. The idea is to get the hard work done, so that during the tournament we can give the squad a lighter workload. We want them to be prepared but also fresh.''

At least Charvis was not training on his own. Since leaving Swansea last January when the club were in financial free-fall, Charvis has been doing his own thing, which is fine if you are a solo yachtsman, not so great in a team game.

The natural move for Charvis was to join the Neath-Swansea Ospreys, one of the five new regional squads. He was made an offer, thought about it, but never signed a contract. The Ospreys looked elsewhere. John Connolly, once of Swansea and now at Bath, had already discovered that Charvis was not the easiest player to coach. If the flanker was playing the field, it did not work. Club-less, Charvis found a benefactor in the former international Mark Ring who, along with a couple of other businessmen, agreed to pay his expenses.

"My main concern throughout the past few months was to find a way to continue to play for Wales,'' Charvis said. "I was offered a sponsorship package for the next few months that ensured that I could train fully without having to get a secondary job.'' It was also a relief to Hansen and the cash-strapped Welsh Rugby Union. "It's great that the business community in Wales recognised the abilities that Colin brings to the national team,'' Hansen said.

Nevertheless, it was a surprise when Hansen last week reappointed Charvis as captain, eight months after relieving him of the duty following the embarrassing defeat by Italy, the signal for a Six Nations whitewash. In Rome Charvis was anonymous until he was replaced in the 68th minute. An image of him smiling from the bench did not help, and in a website poll in Wales for the most hated man he was compared to Osama bin Laden.

'"Colin has been attacked from day one,'' Hansen said, "because some people in the media didn't like him for various reasons. It had a bad effect on his game.''

A Lion in Australia in 2001, Charvis was not a member of the Graham Henry fan club. Under Henry's reign in the Principality, Charvis was twice dropped by Wales, the second time for preferring a holiday in Jamaica to a training camp.

His career can be summed up by the 1999 World Cup. He scored the first try of the competition, against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, before receiving a two-match ban for punching the Pumas prop Roberto Grau.

Hansen has looked at a number of captains, including Stephen Jones, who had a thankless task in the heavy loss to England last month, and the flanker Martyn Williams. Williams's record as skipper was: played four, lost four, and he told Hansen that he would rather the job went to Charvis. When Joe Worsley scored one of England's five tries in their 43-9 victory he brushed off Charvis in the process, but the flanker showed more urgency in the victory over Scotland, even though the Scots monopolised possession.

Hansen has always justified his support of Charvis by pointing out that he is one of the few world-class players available to him. It remains an act of faith.

Perhaps this time Charvis will give the role his undivided attention. "There is a hell of a lot of honour involved in being captain of Wales,'' he said. "It's a great thing for my family and myself. You have to take the highs and lows in sport, and the lows can be fairly catastrophic. But everyone suffers knocks in life, and you cannot take every knock to heart. It's important now to concentrate on what lies ahead. This means a lot to me.''