The best of Wales still in demand

RUGBY UNION: Cardiff's Ring of bright thinking is the coaching target for English clubs as Fijians' expansion plans are stifled
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The Independent Online
How strange that Welsh rugby should be unable to find either a coaching director or even a permanent national coach when some of its most notable practitioners are in such demand elsewhere.

Cardiff's 21-20 win over Fiji at the Arms Park, less riveting than the scoreline makes it sound, was scarcely a persuasive argument in any Welshman's favour, but the fact remains that when it comes to intuitive knowledge of the game and how to put that into practice this is the place to come.

Mark Ring is still turning out in the Cardiff centre at the age of 33, still doing a useful job in nurturing the much younger players around him. And now he is being courted by West Hartlepool, who may be stuck at the bottom of the English First Division but fancy they know quality when they see it. He is not alone: Leeds are said to be considering another of Wales's older guard, Paul Thorburn.

Ring can be envisaged playing an identical role with West to that which Paul Turner, who happens to be a close personal friend, has with Sale. They were in the Second Division when Turner arrived at Heywood Road; West will be as good as in the Second Division by the time Ring is qualified for their final four league fixtures.

If Ring, who has signed a non-binding registration form, were to leave Wales, one has to assume that - like Turner - he would be lost to Welsh rugby altogether. For all his guru status up north, Turner has never been asked to do anything back home since his move to Manchester, whereas the Rugby Football Union has taken all the advantage it can, even down to involving him in the North divisional set-up.

Were he to move too, Ring could well follow the same path - always supposing that in the meantime he is not lured away by the alternative lucre said to be on offer from Kerry Packer. The Australian media magnate is attempting to get his hooks into individuals prepared to forsake the establishment for another of his pies in the sky, an alternative European club competition.

We shall see. Of more immediate concern is that the Fijians develop tighter discipline, in restricting the penalties they concede as well as in the more obvious sense of keeping their tempers, so as to augment the breathtaking natural talent and athleticism with which they use the ball.

This is a tall order when the referees they encounter are prone to whistle while they work rather than stay silent a precious second or two pending advantage. Eddie Murray, alas, was an all-too-familiar case in point. The natural Fijian game is one of vivid, more or less constant movement and our domestic rugby's penchant for wilfully slowing things down all too easily stifles these best of intentions.

No wonder the tourists are looking forward to having Paddy O'Brien officiating against Wales on 11 November and Ireland a week later. Eight of Saturday's beaten team play in New Zealand and, lo and behold, O'Brien is from Oamaru, South Island.

How convenient, and, as it happens, Brad Johnstone, the Fijians' technical adviser, is from Auckland. "We are finding it hard to generate our play with so many stoppages," he said. "They are two different worlds: rugby in the northern hemisphere is very stop-start, very kick-and-chase sort of football; in the southern hemisphere they generally try to keep the ball in hand and the game moving. Two patterns have evolved, but I'm sure every rugby player in the world wants to run with the ball and score tries."

Coming from a former All Black prop, this is a damning indictment both of British rugby in general and, bearing in mind Cardiff are the Welsh champions and until Saturday were the First Division leaders, this match in particular. Never mind that Cardiff are coached by an Australian, Alex Evans. Fiji produced the most memorable moments - though nothing quite to compare with the pioneering 1964 tour here which gave Fijian rugby mythic status in the Principality - yet Cardiff were able by the application of forward brute force to grind out a narrow victory.

They are not necessarily to be blamed for that, even if Neath had in fact succeeded in running the Fijians off their feet three days earlier. "If you try to play Fiji at their own game, whichever team that plays them will come off second-best," Adrian Davies, Cardiff's acting captain, said. The height of ecstasy was therefore Andy Moore's pushover try 13 minutes from time.

The Fijians began and ended with a contrasting flourish, Marika Korovou's fifth-minute try and Rasolosolo Bogisa's at the death being created by exuberant interplay that was otherwise at a premium. Opeti Turuva, whose kicks provided the remainder of the Fijian points, had the chance to win the game but his distant conversion missed by a yard.

Instead, Davies's 17 points won it for Cardiff, his five penalties suitably reflecting the tourists' incessant infringement. More seriously, they were fortunate to have their captain still on the field for the final hour after the hulking Joe Veitayaki, with play proceeding on the opposite side of the field, had rained blows on Derwyn Jones in plain sight of an agitated touch-judge.

"I always react when I get punched," big Joe, more than 20 stone, said - which does not sound quite the example we would like him to set. Even on the assumption that the Wales lock really did hit Veitayaki first, the Fijian's retribution was at least ten-fold. It worked: his dander up, Jones played roughly 10 times better after taking his punishment than before.

Cardiff: Try Moore; Conversion A Davies; Penalties A Davies 5. Fiji: Tries Korovou, Bogisa; Conversion Turuva; Penalties Turuva 3.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford, C John, M Ring, S Hill; A Davies (capt), A Moore (A Booth, 38-h/t); A Lewis, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, J Wakeford, D Jones, V Davies, E Lewis, O Williams (H Stone, 18-27).

FIJI: F Rayasi (King Country); P Bale (Canterbury), L Little (King Country), S Sorovaki (Wellington), M Bari (Tavua); O Turuva (Nadi), J Rauluni (Eastern Districts); J Veitayaki (King Country, capt), G Smith (Waikato), V Cavubati (Wellington), E Katalau (Poverty Bay), I Tawake (Nadroga), T Tamanivalu (Brothers), D Rouse (Nadi), M Korovou (Nadi). Replacement: R Bogisa (Nadi) for Rayasi, 28.

Referee: E Murray (Greenock).

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