reports from Bloemfontein
Wales are set to face a Michael Jones replica every bit as good as the genuine article when they meet New Zealand in Johannesburg on Wednesday. After kicking off their World Cup Group C campaign with a seven-try romp against Japan at Free State Stadium on Saturday, the serious business starts.
Although Jonah Lomu is all the rage of the tournament, the Wales coach, Alex Evans, believes Josh Kronfeld is the man making the All Blacks pack tick. "Out goes Jones and in comes Kronfeld, a player who looks every bit as good as Jones," Evans said. "Kronfeld is an open field man and 80-minute player. Some struggle at altitude, but he has got it all together."
The match against Japan was over as a contest by half-time, Wales enjoying a purple patch of 27 points in 14 minutes, but the Japanese did get their act more together in the second period when the wing Lopeti Oto raced over for two tries.
Now the wing occupying Welsh minds is Lomu, Evans declaring: "He has brought a new dimension to their game. If you are going to stop him you have to get in front of him and meet him head on, it is no good trying to bring him down from the side with that hand-off of his. We can make a tough game of it on Wednesday, we feel we can beat the All Blacks and we will be going out after them.
"I have been associated with Australian teams who have consistently beaten New Zealand - and this Welsh side is more physical than any of those Aussie teams."
The Japanese did give Wales a taste of the "big hits" to come but Derwyn Jones, before he departed early with a back spasm, and Gareth Llewellyn were the chief architects in establishing a 20-13 line-out superiority that was the foundation of victory.
After a solitary try throughout the Five Nations' Championship, Wales got back into the try-habit with a vengance. Leading the way was Gareth Thomas, 20, who became the first Welsh player this century to score a hat-trick of tries on his debut.
"We have had Kirwan and Campese and maybe now is the time for the young bucks like Gareth to make their marks," Evans said yesterday as the Welsh party decamped to Johannesburg. "What an outstanding debut that was - running in three tries and running them in well. He is 6ft 3in and 15st 11lb and is something Wales have been looking for. He has a big future."
But Evans added there was no thought of switching Thomas from the left to right wing to mark Lomu, even though Thomas has a two-and-a- half stone advantage over the British Lion player, Ieuan Evans. Although Thomas announced his arrival on the big stage so emphatically, Evans remains the supreme Welsh finisher.
The captaincy may have gone to Mike Hall but Evans's hunger for tries remains as fierce as ever. He swooped for two of the first three tries against Japan, one courtesy of a kind bounce from an Andy Moore kick ahead, the other from a floated pass from Adrian Davies. Those two strikes lifted Evans's national try record to 23.
The scrum-half Moore had already celebrated his debut with the first try before turning provider and went on to have a fine first international. His distribution and kicking were excellent as he controlled events behind a pack in which the tireless flanker, Hemi Taylor, was outstanding.
Taylor was suitably rewarded with the last try while in between it was all about Thomas. His first two tries came in the space of four minutes each side of half-time, his hat-trick clincher a sprint from the halfway line.
Backing everything up was the boot of Neil Jenkins, who settled early Welsh jitters with three penalties before the tries started rolling and ended up with 22 points.
The main injury worry as Wales prepare to tackle the All Blacks concerns the fly-half, Adrian Davies. He strained the ligaments in his right ankle and will have to prove his recovery at today's session. Derwyn Jones, with a back spasm and Hall, with bruised ribs, are both expected to be fit.
WALES: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli), M Hall (Cardiff, capt), N Jenkins (Pontypriodd), G Thomas (Bridgend); A Davies, A Moore; M Griffiths (all Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), D Jones (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Neath), S Davies (Swansea), E Lewis (Llanelli), H Taylor (Cardiff). Replacements: D Evans (Treochy) for A Davies, 56; S Roy (Cardiff) for Jones, 72.
JAPAN: T Matsuda (Toshiba Fuchu); L Oto (Daito Bunka Univ), A Yoshida, Y Motoki, T Masuho; S Hirao, M Horikoshi (all Kobe Steel); A Ota (NEC), M Kunda (Toshiba Fuchu, capt), K Takahashi (Toyota), Y Sakuraba (Nippon Steel), B Ferguson (Hino Motor), H Kajihara (Katsunuma), Sione Latu (Daito Bunka Univ), Sinali Latu (Sanyo Electric).
Referee: E Sklar (Argentina).Reuse content