Wake-up call for Wales

Wales 34 United States 14
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The Independent Online
Nobody was convinced or fooled by this Welsh performance. The required victory was delivered yet the manner in which it was achieved left much to be desired.

If the Welsh side can get the ball into the hands of the scrum-half Robert Howley at Murrayfield on Saturday half as many as the 78 times he received it against the Eagles, the Scots will suffer. This game at least got the cobwebs out of the players after nearly a month of inactivity due to the weather. It will also have sharpened their minds for the Five Nations' Championship.

A winning start against Scotland remains Wales' only hope of improving on last season's fourth place. That would confirm their ranking as a good outside bet for a Triple Crown and, far more importantly for the coach, Kevin Bowring, would do wonders for the self-belief of his players.

The plan against the Eagles was to stick to the new style of game and score as many tries as possible. Some magnificent defence from the Americans scuppered the latter and the Welsh side never revealed the subtlety required to outwit their visitors. In the end, four tries was a lean return from a game dominated by the home side.

Wales' acting captain, Scott Gibbs, admitted his side were "shoddy", but believed they would improve with the outing.

"Now there can be no excuses when we go to Scotland," he said. "These next few months will be a big test for us. We have to be optimistic, but also realistic. We have got to come away with a win against the Scots and start the championship on the right foot. The key thing is that we must be more ruthless.

"We created lots of chances against the Americans but we threw a number of them away. In Scotland we will have to make every chance count if we are to stand any chance of winning."

The reintroduction of Scott Quinnell at No 8 gave the home side someone to look to carry the ball into the heart of the opposition defence. Unfortunately for Wales, and more especially Quinnell, he was met head on by hordes of eager American tacklers. Wales must be more cunning in their use of a player who undoubtedly will become a major asset.

The jury is still out on Arwel Thomas as the first-choice outside-half for the championship, although it is likely he will be given the first chance when Bowring names his team today. Jonathan Davies remains in the wings - Neil Jenkins will stay at full-back - and could become a "super- sub" during the campaign.

The key to Welsh success is to spread the ball wide to the likes of Ieuan Evans, who took his try record to 30 with a score in each half, and Gareth Thomas on the wings. But on this performance, Gregor Townsend and his men will not be losing too much sleep in the countdown to Murrayfield.

n The Eagles flanker Jay Wilkerson has been suspended by his own coach for kicking the Welsh hooker Garin Jenkins. Wilkerson, 30, received a four-week ban after the US coach and manager, Jack Clark, watched a video recording of the incident. Wilkerson has since apologised to Jenkins.

Wales: Tries Evans 2, Gibbs, penalty try; Conversions: Thomas 4; Penalties: Thomas 2. US Eagles: Try: Bachelet; Penalties: Alexander 3.

WALES: J Thomas (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea, capt), G Thomas (Bridgend); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Rowley (Pontypridd), S Williams (Neath), S Quinnell (Richmond), C Charvis (Swansea). Replacements: J Davies (Cardiff) for Gibbs, 66-70; C Quinnell (Richmond) for Rowley, 70; P John (Pontypridd) for Howley, 76.

UNITED STATES: M Williams (Gentlemen of Aspen); V Anitoni (Yankees), R Tardits (Life College), M Scharrenberg (Reading), B Hightower (G of A); M Alexander (Denver Barbarians), A Bachelet (Reading); R Lehner (Blackheath), T Billups (Blackheath), B LeClerc (G of A), C Vogl (Bridgend), A Parker (G of A), D Lyle (Bath, capt), R Lumkong (Pontypridd), J Wilkerson (Belmont Shore). Replacements: C Morrow (G of A) for Williams, 64; J Walker (G of A) for Lumkong, 78.

Referee: L Mayne (Ireland).