Young Wales begin a game of patience

Steve Bale looks at the task facing the Principality against improving Italy tonight
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The Independent Online
If this sounds like a repeating record, it is because every Wales coach says what follows. Yesterday both Kevin Bowring and Allan Lewis, coach and assistant, pleaded for patience when their team of infinite promise and infinite inexperience play Italy at Cardiff Arms Park tonight.

The trouble is that patience, whether it be from those who attend the Arms Park or the Welsh Rugby Union itself in its attitude to national coaches, has not been a ready virtue. Ask Tony Gray, John Ryan, Ron Waldron or Alan Davies. Or even Alex Evans, who went home to Australia thinking the world of Welsh rugby's potential but the worst of some of its supporters.

In keeping with the spirit of Bowring's request, however, if ever there was a time for patience this is it. Provided a team containing five new caps and a list of others with only a handful can get through this match and then this season without suffering the indignities of various recent predecessors, there is every prospect of a bright future.

Alas for Wales, it is a big proviso. The Italians proved themselves only 10 days ago - when they scored four tries to one in beating Scotland 29- 17 in a game that was a full international in all but name - to be worthy opponents, worthier even than the side who caused Wales great inconvenience in the World Cup qualifier in Cardiff 15 months ago. The Welsh, held 1- 1 in tries, were relieved to win 29-19.

As Bowring is a new coach, albeit a professional one, he is pleading for patience for himself as much as his team. "It's going to take time," he said - and as he has been appointed for four years he perhaps has more than some of his forerunners. His ambition for "more expansive, dynamic and expressive" rugby is curiously reminiscent of Jack Rowell's with England and Bowring has picked a team who could hardly play it otherwise.

Thus a heavy responsibility falls on Arwel Thomas, 21, the new outside- half carrying the Jonathan Davies millstone to bring his backs into play far more than is Neil Jenkins's wont for Wales, if only on the basis that as Thomas's place-kicking cannot hope to compare with the absent Jenkins's Wales had better get on with scoring some tries.

Would that it were so simple. Tonight's match is of incalculable importance to Italy in their campaign to turn the Five Nations into Six. "We know the subject is under debate," their captain, Massimo Cuttitta, said, and if his team act accordingly the Welsh youngsters will find this taste of Test rugby less palatable than they do in the posters advertising the match in the Principality.

Apparently they enjoy "eating Italians" but a cautionary word from Allan Lewis indicates otherwise. "The gap between Wales and Italy is closing rapidly," he said. "We will see if it still exists. I hope the public realise how big a challenge it is going to be for these young players. I would have been terrified at their age but they are all quite relaxed." And ready to tuck in?

WALES (v Italy, tonight, Cardiff): J Thomas; I Evans (both Llanelli), L Davies (Neath), M Wintle, W Proctor (both Llanelli); A Thomas (Bristol), A Moore; A Lewis, J Humphreys (all Cardiff, capt), J Davies, Gareth Llewellyn (both Neath), D Jones, E Lewis, H Taylor (all Cardiff), G Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: S Hill (Cardiff), D Evans (Treorchy), R Howley (Bridgend), S Williams (Neath), L Mustoe (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea).

ITALY: M Ravazzolo; P Vaccari (both Calvisano), I Francescato, T Visentin (both Treviso), F Roseli (Roma); D Dominguez (Milan), A Troncon (Treviso); M Cuttitta (capt), C Orlandi, F Properzi-Curti (all Milan), M Giacheri (Treviso), P Pedroni (Milan), O Arancio (Catania), A Sgorlon (San Dona), J Gardner (Treviso). Replacements: M Dal Sie (Lafert San Dona), G De Carli (Roma Olimpic), R Favaro (Treviso), C Caione (L'Aquila), M Bonomi (Milan), A Pertile (Roma Olimpic).

Referee: G Black (Ireland).