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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK


Wales now free to excel

Wales were overcome by the sense of occasion, says Eddie Butler

BBC News Online pundit Eddie Butler reviews Wales' opening World Cup performance

Given the hype and air of expectation across the land I am not surprised Wales had such a shaky start to their World Cup campaign.

In fact it was almost inevitable that Wales would struggle against Argentina.

The problems created by the Pumas came as a stark reminder that there are a lot of good teams out there and the expectation placed on Wales has to be re-considered.

It was a rubbish performance and a rubbish game - but that's good.

It was almost refreshing and served as a healthy reminder of the realities facing Wales.


[ image: Home soil: The pressure got to Graham Henry's men]
Home soil: The pressure got to Graham Henry's men
Having said that the performance was badly affected by nerves.

However closetted Graham Henry has tried to keep the Welsh squad they cannot have failed to have been captivated by the public expectation which has swept the country.

The occasion clearly got to them. There were plus points in the performances of Shane Howarth, who was an absolute rock at full-back, Garin Jenkins and the Aussie newcomer Jason Jones-Hughes.

But players like Neil Jenkins and Scott Gibbs, who has played on Lions Tours and has nothing to prove, looked out of sorts.

There was a purple patch when Colin Charvis went over for a try just before the interval and then Mark Taylor scored - but the Wales of last season would have raced ahead from there.


[ image: High expectations: Wales can now relax]
High expectations: Wales can now relax
The nerves did play their part and instead of easing up and down on the accelerator, Wales were all over the shop and played even worse.

I don't know why it happened, you'd need a pyschiatrist to tell you that.

But I think maybe Wales were almost over-prepared.

I have got this theory that a team can be too focused on the whole, instead of the individual. It goes back to the very basics of competition - you must start by just trying to beat your opposite number.

I think Wales considered it to be too much of a team thing and forgot about the one-on-one confrontation.

It is easier to do that when you are underdogs and Wales were clearly not comfortable being favourites.

When they have no hope -as they supposedly did against England at Wembley - then they rise to the occasion.

But this game was completely different and they did not like it.

They gave away the ball too easily and were far too cramped in midfield. When you start getting too close you have to think quicker and it is even easier to let nerves disrupt things.

Also they had played, and beaten, Argentina four times recently so there might have been a degree of complacency.

Next up is Japan and that is good. The Japanese beat Canada and Samoa recently and Wales will be afraid of them because they do not know them.

But the important thing is they won, so there is no damage done.

In fact, as I said it is a healthy result because it will take the pressure of Wales.

People can now assess their chances in the proper context - Wales are going to do their best but they are not going to win the World Cup.

This will give them the breathing space they need. And then? Who knows.





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