Wales caps decision a farce
June 8, 2011
Stephen Jones won his 100th cap against the Barbarians © Getty Images
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) stands accused of devaluing the currency after awarding caps for the match against the Barbarians last weekend. I know they can claim there is a precedent but that is no excuse - it was an aberration first time around and the mistake should never have been repeated.
Cynics - and I am unashamedly one of them - believe the motive was to give the game greater status and therefore increase the gate, but if it was purely a marketing ploy it was a miserable failure. Only 30,000 turned out and everybody I spoke to agreed it was a farce to award caps for what was little more than a final trial for the World Cup squad.
First and foremost, the Barbarians are an itinerant invitation team. They are not a national team so it is, de facto, impossible for them to be involved in an international match. Second, they are rightly renowned for playing open, attacking rugby to entertain the crowd. That is a proud tradition but it immediately compromises the game because winning becomes secondary. It is rugby's equivalent of Twenty20 compared to a Test match.
You could see from the way Wales tried to keep the ball alive in situations where they would normally have gone for territory that this was a match with a separate agenda. In international rugby winning is everything, in this match it was more a question of style over substance.
I'm sure Stephen Jones would have preferred to win his 100th cap in a match that counted for something and Lloyd Burns, Scott Andrews and Scott Williams cannot possibly feel they have really been capped. This was an under-strength, experimental side - an 'A' team at very best. One of those feeling particularly aggrieved was Mervyn Davies, the great Welsh No. 8 and one of the six players to have played in a winning test series for the British & Irish Lions against New Zealand and South Africa.
His father, Dai, played against the New Zealand armed forces for Wales in 1945-46. France gave full caps to all their players in that season but the Home Unions, ultra-conservative in those days, decided not to award caps, designating them 'Victory' internationals instead. How times have changed.
I was at a charity dinner the other night where people expressed surprise at how few caps I had won compared to Dean Richards and Finlay Calder, the other two speakers. It was hard not to feel a touch indignant.
My tally (26 for Wales and four for the Lions) were gained over seven seasons and I only missed seven internationals (dropped for two, injured for one and four because I refused to play against South Africa in 1969-70) in that period so the total I could have won for Wales was 33.
I actually played half a dozen more 'internationals' but caps were only awarded for matches against full International Board member countries in those days so matches against the minnows - Fiji, who were particularly strong at the end of the 60s, Japan, Canada etc. simply did not count.
National tours abroad in the summer were a rarity and if there was no incoming touring side it was only possible to win four caps in a year. In 1972 that went down to three because the British Embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground and we did not play Ireland.
I always remember Derek Quinnell putting it into perspective. He won 23 caps between 1972 and 1980 while son Scott won 25 of his 50 odd caps in three seasons after coming back from rugby league - he played 13 international matches in 1999 alone.
Nowadays mass substitutions around the hour mark are the order of the day - not so when Quinnell senior was first capped. In those days the match doctor had to certify a player was unfit to continue before he could be replaced and there is iconic footage of Derek racing down the tunnel in injury time to gain his first cap against France, knocking stewards and photographers out of the way in his anxiety to get on the field before the final whistle blew.
Mervyn had been injured and it took an age before the doctor finally agreed he could not continue. Our celebrations of his first cap that night were a touch muted and he confesses he felt a little bit of a fraud until he started the match against New Zealand the following season (although he had already been capped for the Lions in New Zealand in 1971).
There is a lobby that advocates totally rewriting the record books to include all those matches. I am not for that - too complicated and not worth the effort - but I do think it would be a nice gesture to award posthumous caps to those who played in the Victory Internationals. They certainly deserve them more than those who played for 'Wales' last Saturday.
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