Welsh coach labels Davies a 'coward' for critique from afar

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Any fears that Wales were to have a smooth and harmonious start to Rugby World Cup 2003 disappeared as soon as the coach Steve Hansen opened his mouth yesterday to let fly on one of the Principality's favourite rugby sons.

While many might think that the anger welling inside Hansen would be better off directed towards Canada - the opponents here tomorrow in an ever-so-tricky opening Pool D fixture - the New Zealander had other ideas of the immediate enemy and focused both barrels on Jonathan Davies, who just happens to be one of the most respected pundits in Wales and who immediately rang Hansen after hearing of the verbal assault to try to call a ceasefire to this unseemly war of words.

The former dual-code Welsh international and exclusive columnist for the Independent and the Independent on Sunday during the World Cup, attracted the wrath of Hansen who said Davies did not have "the balls to criticise me to my face". Furthermore, Hansen accused Davies of working in the media and not on the training field because he is just one of the former Welsh players "not brave enough to take the criticism that they themselves throw".

The tirade came as a direct reply to recent comments made by Davies that suggested Hansen's Wales "play in too many sequences instead of just playing what is in front them". But, in truth, this was merely the last straw for Hansen, whose back has been creaking under the weight of sustained criticism for the last year as Wales compiled a record run of 10 losses before back-to-back Test victories over Romania and Scotland in August.

"I don't listen to the criticism because the guy that's made it has never been around our environment and spends most of his time criticising us from afar," Hansen began yesterday at the Welsh team's hotel in Melbourne. "He would be far better off putting a pair of boots on and coming down to find out what's going on himself. There's always going to be people who criticise what we do because that's not what they'd do. But you don't see too many of them volunteering to do it because they're not brave enough to take the criticism that they themselves throw. You just have to take it on the chin and get on with it I suppose.

"But I do get annoyed that you get these people who don't have anything to do with the team, don't know what's going on, but because they played the game themselves think they've got a free rein to criticise everyone. Now are they part of the problem or part of the solution? If they were prepared to roll their sleeves and help out, then fine. If they were prepared to actually criticise you to your face, then fine. But I've spent plenty of time in the man's [Davies'] company but he just doesn't have the balls to do it face-to-face. That's what I get annoyed with."

When the Independent relayed Hansen's comments to Davies when he was having breakfast at his Cardiff home yesterday, he telephoned the coach at the Welsh HQ in Australia. "I asked him what his problem was," Davies said. "I'd been making comments like these for ages and in front of him. What happened is that the local paper cobbled together comments I've been making on television and in my Independent on Sunday column over the past few months and presented them on Thursday as something fresh under the heading 'Hansen Slammed'.

"He should know better than to fall for that. I'm paid for my opinions and I'm not afraid to be frank, but I've never criticised him personally and I'm always constructive. I've said many times that Wales start their phases too deep, put ourselves on the back foot and have to kick earlier than we should.

"As I said in our conversation, tactical arguments are what rugby is all about and I know what it's like to be criticised myself. It's all part of the game. I wished him good luck and we agreed to have a beer when I get out there."