Caution as Wales join Sevens fold

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2005, 12:00am

They might be grand slam winners, but don't expect Wales to cause too many ripples when they make their grand entry into the IRB Sevens this season.

Wales, reigning Six Nations champions, will play in all eight legs of the IRB Sevens, including the March 31-April 2 Hong Kong Sevens. But according to Wales and British and Irish Lions prop Gethin Jenkins, the newcomers will struggle to be competitive.

'The best players will not be available due to club commitments and the clubs will not want to release them. Wales will field a very young side, those players who are not contracted and we will struggle,' said Jenkins.

'But this is the way forward. Teams like New Zealand and Australia have shown us how beneficial sevens are to 15-a-side,' said Jenkins. 'It will be a great learning experience for the younger guys.'

New Zealand will be chasing their seventh consecutive IRB Sevens title when the season kicks off in Dubai in December. Apart from traditional rivals like England, Fiji, South Africa and Australia, the Kiwis will have to contend with Wales, too, this time.

Jenkins was in town as a guest of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union for the Sevens Long Lunch yesterday. He was able to travel to Hong Kong as he is currently on the injured list and is not playing for Cardiff Blues - the team Jonah Lomu signed up with last week.

'It will be great to have Jonah in the side. He is a legend and he will be good for our club. Playing with us will also give him the chance to get back his fitness,' said Jenkins, who played all three Lions tests against New Zealand this summer.

However, Jenkins will initially have to watch Lomu from the touchlines as he is still recovering from a shoulder operation which he underwent a fortnight ago. He will also miss Wales' four autumn internationals against New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia.

The absence of Jenkins, the probable loss of Gavin Henson (groin surgery) and questions marks over inspirational captain Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones prompted Bill Beaumont, the guest speaker at the Long Lunch, to say that New Zealand are on line for a grand slam tour triumph over the Home Unions.

'New Zealand have a pretty good chance of completing a grand slam. It is early in the season back in the UK and lots of teams are struggling with injuries and making changes,' said Beaumont.

New Zealand have only achieved a grand slam tour once before, in 1978. but after the hiding they gave the Lions this summer, Beaumont feels they could do it again.

Beaumont, an ex-England captain, was the Lions tour manager during the summer and he had one of the best seats in town as he witnessed the New Zealanders blackwash the cream of British rugby. 'They were far better. They had a 20 point start in every game and it was not easy coming back from that. It was very disappointing.

'But if you ask me whether New Zealand is now favourites for the next World Cup in 2007, I can say that they have gone into most World Cups as favourites.

'They have been known to peak in-between World Cups.

'Hopefully for England [reigning World Cup champions], they will get their timing wrong again,' said Beaumont.

CBRE Club will hope to get back to winning ways today when they play host to DeA Tigers in the Securicor First Division. Club, who lost 14-8 to Asahi Valley last week, will be hoping to rebound against a DeA Tigers outfit.

DeA are in the rebuilding process after losing a large number of players, including Hong Kong internationals Andrew Chambers, Rob Naylor and Ricky Cheuk - all to Club.