Too much rugby theory and not enough heart

Rugby: Tim Glover believes Wales have hit rock bottom in a game made for them
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Wales returned home yesterday, a rugby nation that has forgotten how to play rugby. When William Webb Ellis picked up the ball at Rugby School in the 19th century he appeared to have invented a sport that was made for the principality.

In the World Cup, for the Webb Ellis Trophy, Wales looked like a Third World team. Scotland, who can always be relied upon to punch their weight, employ a psychiatrist to add a little confidence to their campaign, and Wales are clearly in need of a block-booking for the couch.

The Welsh used to embrace rugby with a passion. In the good old days, when players paid to play rather than the other way round, they raised the game to an art form. On the back of the industrial revolution, in hamlets, villages, towns and cities men and boys played a game that was rich in skill and flair and strength, and inspired a host of choirs to strain the larynx.

Somehow, for Wales, it has all been lost. The Welsh did not just lose against Ireland at Ellis Park on Sunday. They completely lost their way. They had, some months earlier, already lost their nerve. Before the World Cup in 1991 they got rid of the old coaching set-up and brought in Alan Davies and Robert Norster. Wales were then beaten by Western Samoa in Cardiff, giving rise to the joke about what might have happened had they played the whole of Samoa, and failed to qualify for the latter stages.

Following a wooden-spoon campaign in the last Five Nations' Championship, in which they were beaten by Ireland in Cardiff, Davies and Norster were dispensed with. The WRU thought that was the nadir. They were wrong. The bottom line was reached in Johannesburg. Geoff Evans, the former London Welsh, Wales and British Lions lock, was at the heart of the coup and the poisoned chalice was handed to Alex Evans, an elderly Australian who coached Cardiff to the Heineken League title this season. Geoff Evans became the manager.

The good Evanses had little time to prepare for the World Cup and yesterday, at a press conference that sounded like a post-mortem, they admitted as much. "Our preparation was poor," Alex Evans said. "Wales had worked for three weeks, some countries for four years." He described Wales' tours to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tonga and Fiji as "Mickey Mouse".

"South Africa played 14 top international matches last year and never stopped learning," he said. "Australia had six summer training camps, the Super 10 series and international matches before they arrived here.

"We should send a development XV down to the southern hemisphere and six coaches each season. From that we can get some inspiration."

Once upon a time Australia were useless. Even a combined Neath and Aberavon side, who hated each other's guts, would put 30 points on the Wallabies and that was in the days when a try was three points. Then Australia, and Alex Evans has been part of this, adopted a more scientific approach. The game was played, by people who were professionally fit, to a pattern.

Wales have not had the time, the inclination or the money to adopt such an approach and have fallen behind. Even worse, they have lost the basic instinct. It is not lack of coaching that has seen Wales' heritage destroyed, it is too much theory and not enough heart. A player in possession of the ball should be free to express himself, not have his mind distracted by arrows and codes from a blackboard jungle.

This squad, overloaded with Cardiff players, was also mismanaged. Wales were competent against Japan and then made 10 changes for the game against the All Blacks. For the crucial match against Ireland they made eight changes. They all talked a good game but the team spirit was with Ireland.

"It's not a question of if but when we qualify," Mike Hall, the captain, said. Before the game against the All Blacks, Geoff Evans said: "We are bigger, faster and fitter than New Zealand." Yesterday he said: "Insularity is our biggest problem. We have a well organised cup and league but it doesn't expose our players to the world outside. We've tried to copy countries without thinking about where we wanted to go. We must become innovative again."

Alex Evans, who last week remarked that this was the best squad he'd ever worked with, said: "We've become a team. For the first two games we didn't run on to the park as a Welsh team. We were a conglomerate. Against Ireland we were a team."

In New South Wales he might be able to get away with this but in old South Wales they won't believe it. In fact against Ireland Wales were a shambles. In the first half they played as if they were hypnotised - the strange refereeing of Ian Rogers did not help - and a country that once dazzled the world with its rugby was booed by a bored crowd.

Wales return to South Africa for a mini tour in August and next month the WRU will, once again, discuss the position of coach. Before doing that, the WRU should ask itself why a country that plays club rugby to a much higher standard than Ireland or Scotland should so badly fumble its lines on the international stage that they could have been pelted with rotten fruit.

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