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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Welsh pair chase debut dream
Rugby league's European Nations Cup returns to the sporting calendar after a seven year absence this Sunday.

Defending champions England - who will field an 'A' side - will be joined by Wales, Russia, France, Ireland and Scotland in the three-week tournament.

Wales face Russia in the opening match at Aberavon on Sunday, kick-off 1500 GMT. A match against world champions Australia, warming up for a three test series against Great Britain, awaits them on 2 November.

Here, Ian Golden profiles two of a new breed of Welsh players hoping to make their mark.


By Ian Golden

Aled James and Lenny Woodard takes a break from Wales training at Aberavon Rugby Club
James and Woodard hope to impress Wales coach Neil Kelly
Two of Aberavon's rugby union squad have begun training with the Wales rugby league squad prior to their internationals with Australia, England and Russia.

Aled James and Lenny Woodard, who have both represented the Wales and Great Britain student side, made the squad on the back of performances in the recent Rugby League Conference season.

James, 22-years-old from Caerphilly, recently made three appearances for the Widnes Vikings in Super League and is currently starring in Aberavon's great start to the Welsh Premiership season.

A talented footballer with pace, vision and a superb defensive game, he has progressed through the rugby league ranks from the Cardiff Demons and Welsh Students to make the grade with Widnes.

Neil Kelly, his coach for both Wales and Widnes, recognises James' talent and believes this is the start of an influx of great Welsh players.

"We're trying to recognise and continue the great work that has been done in the Rugby League Conference this year," said Kelly.

"The successful Welsh team in the 1990s relied heavily on rugby union converts such as Jonathan Davies and Allan Bateman.

"Over the last five years, after professionalism was introduced to rugby union, we've relied on northern-based players with Welsh ancestry such as Lee Briers, Iestyn Harris and Keiron Cunningham.

"Now, with six rugby league clubs here in Wales, we are able to develop players to form the base of the Wales team for the future.

"Aled is a great example of one of these players. His progression has been tremendous.

We need the crowd to support us in this crunch game against Russia and drive us on to a win
Lenny Woodard
"After being man of the match in both tests against Australia while playing for Great Britain Students, I was able to fetch him up to Widnes to play a few games for us.

"With players such as Damien Hudd and Lenny Woodard also in the squad, hopefully they will be the first of many to progress in this way."

Lenny Woodard, who joined Aberavon Wizards RFC from Pontypool, has had a long connection with rugby league stretching back to 1997.

After being one of the guiding lights in the Bridgend Blue Bulls' Conference winning season, he is trying hard to overcome an ankle injury to make the starting line up to face the world champion Kangaroos at the Brewery Field in November.

But a more pressing engagement for Woodard is the European Nations Cup match against Russia at Aberavon on Sunday.

The winger says is keen to hear the roar of the crowd at the game.

"I am certain that the people of Port Talbot and the surrounding area will come out in their droves to support us at Aberavon" said Woodard.

"There are a lot of local players like Aled, Kevin Ellis, Alan Bateman and myself all representing Wales.

"We need the crowd to support us in this crunch game and drive us on to a win before we take on Australia and England.

"So get along to the World of Hurt on Sunday 26 October where I can promise you fast- paced, hard-hitting action played with real Welsh spirit."




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