Wales told to toughen up their act

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Rugby Union


Don't look back, just think ahead. That is the message Alex Evans, the Wales coach, wants his players to have ringing in their ears over the next fortnight as they prepare to throw down the first challenge to South Africa since the Springboks were crowned world champions.

For the Welsh rugby public, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, is remembered as the graveyard of yet another World Cup campaign. It is now up to Jonathan Humphreys, the new captain, and his young squad to pick up the pieces and try to bring home a few crumbs of comfort as Evans and the assistant coach, Dennis John, attempt to lay a foundation for the 1999 World Cup.

As the host nation, Wales have at least been saved the ignominy of going through the qualifying rounds once again. What Evans has demanded of his 24 players is that they look forward rather than back, and toughen up their act.

He said: "Players in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are mentally tough. They have a professional outlook on all things and, starting this week, we have four years to learn that lesson.

"The World Cup proved to me that Wales do not have a problem in ability as much as mental toughness. The players have to be more disciplined and be prepared to make sacrifices.

"Everything we do now has to be done with the 1999 World Cup finals in mind. The Springboks have shown us all what can be achieved in four years."

While the cynics have already been reaching for the record books - South Africa beat Western Samoa 60-8 in April and Wales were beaten 63-6 in Australia in 1991 - the players are, surprisingly, looking forward to an ordeal that has been dubbed "Mission Impossible" in their homeland.

The mental barriers will be as great to overcome as the physical ones at a sun-drenched Ellis Park, and Ieuan Evans, the former captain, is of similar mind to his coach.

He said: "It is going to be a question of us all gutsing it out in South Africa and not being scared. One thing is certain, these younger players aren't at all daunted by the prospect of meeting the world champions and won't be scared to have a go.

"Their thoughts are all positive and being channelled towards the World Cup. Too many people in Wales are more concerned with what is behind us, rather than what can be achieved in the future."

The young guns will get their first opportunity in a practice match against Roodepoort on Thursday. Then it will be on to the real stuff against South- Eastern Transvaal on Saturday. This was supposed to be an easy start, but so far this season South-Eastern Transvaal have already beaten Natal for the first time in their history and hammered Zimbabwe.

Another international scalp would be welcome and, unless the Welsh players can start to hang tough, it could be a likely outcome. It promises to be a tricky first hurdle on the road to the 1999 World Cup finals.

WALES SQUAD (Tour of South Africa) Backs: I Evans (Llanelli), A Harris (Swansea), S Hill (Cardiff), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), P John (Pontypridd), G Jones (Bridgend), A Moore (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), G Thomas (Bridgend), J Thomas (Llanelli), A Williams (Swansea). Forwards: P Arnold (Swansea), M Bennett (Cardiff), J Davies (Neath), A Gibbs (Newbridge), J Humphreys (Cardiff, captain), G Jenkins (Swansea), S John (Llanelli), D Jones (Cardiff), A Lewis (Cardiff), C Loader (Swansea), G Prosser (Pontypridd), H Taylor (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Neath).