Wales must resist the temptation to panic
Huw Richards
August 6, 2007

Yes, there was somebody Welsh who got something positive out of Saturday's debacle at Twickenham. Huw Richards reports from Twickenham

Four year old Carys Charles of Peterborough was absolutely delighted to receive one of the cuddly zebras handed out in the press room by sponsors Investec.

For the rest there was considerably less pleasure, coupled with the odd satirical inquiry as to whether the zebra might be trained to throw into the line-out. It could, after all, hardly have made that traditional zone of Welsh ineptitude much worse.

There has, though, to be one overwhelming message - DON'T PANIC. Let's remember where Wales were four years ago with their first team losing 43-9 to England's 2nd/3rd XV at Cardiff. If the current implication is more one of English regression than Welsh progress, at least things aren't that bad.

And certainly the last thing anybody should be thinking about is a last minute change of coach. Even the perennially slow learners at the Welsh Rugby Union know that doesn't work after trying it in 1991 and 1995 - by no coincidence the two World Cups when Wales failed to reach the last eight.

Gareth Jenkins was absolutely right, when confronted with one of those impossible-to-answer post-match questions - 'are you the right man to take Wales to the World Cup ? ' - to point out that whether he is or not, he has the responsibility of doing so.

Wales of course did have the right man until 18 months ago, but allowed him to be forced out. That's the fault of the Welsh Rugby Union, who failed miserably in their duty as employers, and of players and coaches who chose to undermine the best coach Wales has had since the 1970s. But that damage is done, and there's no point in hankering after going back. For better, for worse, Jenkins is the man.

Certainly it is hard to see what he or Wales will have gained from Twickenham, unless it was greater clarity on some of those tough decisions on who goes - or more likely in these terms, does not go - to France. Any of the front five that makes it can count himself lucky, as can Michael Owen, although his versatility and talent for distribution continue to be a strong argument.

You can hardly blame backs forced to exist on the retreat and with minimal possession, although Aled Brew's evident loss of composure will count against him. Gareth Cooper, whose chief misfortune is to be the contemporary of Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel, coped pretty well in the circumstances.

Of the 15 who started at Twickenham only the centres, Alan-Wyn Jones (albeit as a lock rather than flanker) and perhaps Colin Charvis are likely to start the important World Cup games. The worry, of course, is what happens when there are injuries to key players - Ryan Jones and Gavin Henson will not be the last - and also how far it will be possible to rotate the squad in the early stages, keeping the main men fresh and the back-ups in match practice. Jenkins may have to field more of his best first XV against Canada and Japan than might otherwise have been the case.

Twickenham won't be forgotten. Wales-England matches never are. But the crowd reaction - cheerful rather than ecstatic on the English side, down rather than suicidal among the Welsh - showed that this was phoney war. The real stuff happens next month and Wales will still go in better shape than four years ago.

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