Welsh hope to feel at home on tour

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The Independent Online
On Tuesday it was Scotland heading off for New Zealand and today it is Wales en route to Australia. The contrast could not be sharper: where the Scots have embraced touring as essential more than merely necessary, for the Welsh it has been an optional and frequently unpleasant extra.

It is Kevin Bowring's earnest hope that this is about to change but the Welsh are notoriously bad tourers - both in terms of the results they achieve and the adverse psychology of being away. So while the coach can hope, he cannot know whether his own worldliness, born of most of a lifetime living outside Wales (he still lives in Bristol), will now be transmitted to his players.

Most of them will be staying in Wales, however, despite the sums supposedly on offer in England which have already attracted Gareth Llewellyn and Andy Moore. Their lucrative voluntary exile with Harlequins and Richmond respectively has specifically excluded them from group of 16 to whom the Welsh Rugby Union is awarding three-year contracts worth pounds 30,000 annually - the proviso being that they play for Welsh clubs.

Otherwise the favoured ones are those involved during the Five Nations, including Gareth Thomas, who is joining Pontypridd from Bridgend. For the rest the attraction is match fees and bonuses - and Llewellyn and Moore are doing quite nicely anyway - and the incentive of using the tour to gain a contract. As it is, the WRU will have to find pounds 480,000 a year.

Wales have toured South Africa once (and played a one-off Test there last September), New Zealand twice and this will be the third tour to Australia - all this in 32 long years. They came back from South Africa in 1964 saying something must be done, said much the same after New Zealand in '88 and Australia in '91, when the tour disintegrated through humiliating results on the field and humiliating behaviour off it.

If this seems an unduly negative way in which to herald this eight-match tour, which kicks off against Western Australia next Wednesday and includes Tests in Brisbane and Sydney, it has the positive function of emphasising how much has changed in five years. Wales may have won only one of their 1996 Five Nations matches but they were widely admired for their positive attitude and intermittently skilful rugby.

Wales should be measuring themselves against the best in the world. But even in the years of plenty two decades ago Welsh success was confined to these islands, only the reflected glory of major representation on the victorious Lions' tours to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974 proving a wider international point.

Even the team of 1978, the last from Wales to do the Grand Slam, went on to lose in Australia. "We have the incentive of doing better than the other Welsh squads that have gone to Australia," Terry Cobner, the WRU's director of rugby and the '78 tour captain, said. And as it happens, this modest ambition is well within their reach.

WALES TOUR PARTY: Full-back: *C Cormack (Pontypridd). Wings: I Evans (Llanelli), S Hill (Cardiff), *D James (Bridgend), W Proctor (Llanelli). Centres: L Davies (Neath), N Davies (Llanelli), *J Funnell (Neath), G Thomas (Pontypridd). Outside-halves: N Jenkins (Pontypridd), A Thomas (Swansea). Scrum-halves: R Howley (Bridgend), A Moore (Richmond). Props: J Davies (Neath), A Lewis (Cardiff), C Loader (Swansea), L Mustoe (Cardiff). Hookers: J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), G Jenkins (Swansea). Locks: P Arnold (Swansea), *S Ford (Bridgend), D Jones (Cardiff), Gareth Llewellyn (Harlequins), *M Voyle (Newport). Flankers: A Gibbs (Newbridge), G Jones (Llanelli), K Jones (Ebbw Vale), E Lewis (Cardiff). No 8s: H Taylor (Cardiff), S Williams (Neath). *uncapped.

ITINERARY: 29 May: Western Australia (Perth). 2 June: Australian Capital Territory (Canberra). 5 June: New South Wales (North Sydney). 8 June: AUSTRALIA (Brisbane). 12 June: Australia B (Brisbane). 15 June: NSW Country (Moree). 18 June: Victoria (Melbourne). 22 June: AUSTRALIA (Sydney).