Poor old Wales. Their Great Redeemer, Graham Henry, is not doing much redeeming at present, and their new saviour, Iestyn Harris, failed to save his country's blushes during their desperate Test performance against the Argentinians in Cardiff. To make matters worse, their elder statesman, David Young has decided to practise his statesmanship some place else. The Cardiff prop has relinquished the captaincy and announced his retirement from international rugby with immediate effect.
"It is always difficult to walk away from something that means so much," the 34-year-old triple Lion said yesterday, "but I felt this was a decision I had to make. I had considered retiring after the Ireland game [last month's Six Nations fixture, which Wales lost by 30 points] but decided to carry on in an effort to put things right. However, the intense criticism that has followed our recent defeats, allied to the high expectation that always goes with playing for Wales, weighs heavily not just on me, but also my family."
Henry described Young, who won his 50th cap against the Irish , as a "real man whose demeanour demanded respect". Young began his international career as a teenager in the 1987 World Cup quarter-final with England, and was a ruthlessly competitive Test Lion in Australia two years later. His move to rugby league placed new demands on him, yet he quickly re-established his reputation as a high-quality scrummaging technician on his return to union in 1996.
However, Henry was close to relieving him of the national captaincy after the shambles against Ireland – only Scott Quinnell's injury problems persuaded him otherwise – and would certainly have done so for this weekend's meeting with Tonga had he not been saved the bother. Quinnell is odds-on favourite to succeed his fellow Lion, although a second Llanelli player, Stephen Jones, has also come into Henry's thinking. He, though, is currently caught between two positions, outside-half and inside centre, and if Henry switches Jones and Harris around this weekend, the former will have quite enough to think about.
Young's retirement may well signal a change of position for the spherical man of Swansea, Darren Morris. A loose-head by instinct and breeding, Morris is certainly constructed along tight-head lines – at 6ft plus and the best part of 20st, he is quite a specimen. If Henry does ask him to make the switch, Wales could field a remodelled pack against the Tongans, with Iestyn Thomas, of Ebbw Vale, and Ian Gough, of Newport, restored to the front five.
England will also make a stack of changes for this weekend's meeting with Romania, but for different reasons. Many of the more influential figures behind the victory over Australia are likely to be rested, although the coach, Clive Woodward, will not necessarily want them to return to their clubs, for the very good reason that a Premiership game is likely to be far more physical than an outing against the amateurs of Dinamo Bucharest and Farul Constanta.
Mike Tindall, the Bath centre, has every chance of returning to the midfield for the first time in nine months, and there may be an opportunity for his club-mate, the second row Steve Borthwick. That latter possibility depends on Martin Johnson, the injured England captain, and Woodward's thinking in terms of the match with South Africa on Saturday week. Johnson, back in circulation after recovering from a broken hand, will be under considerable pressure to play for Leicester at Sale. There again, Woodward may decide to pull rank and give him a more gentle hour or so at Twickenham.Reuse content