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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 05:12 GMT
Awesome Arwel lifts the gloom
Wales 42-11 USA Eagles
Wales played in their reserve kit of all black and in the winter gloom under the stadium roof the game long lived in the shadows.
That all changed with a moment of heaven-sent fly-half play in the 54th minute.
The Eagles were looking as if they could get back into the game - a try early in the second half from wing Malakai Delai and a penalty from Grant Wells had cut the Welsh lead to 18-8.
Then Robert Howley fed Arwel Thomas after the ball was recycled outside the USA's 22.
Faced with a solid defensive wall, Thomas dummied, made a clean break and shimmied past the helpless cover to cross under the posts.
The try broke the Eagles' resistance and Wales were able to ease away to a comfortable victory.
Dafydd James got the game's opening score on his return to the Wales side, striking a blow for the big men on the wing.
The ball was recycled from a Mark Taylor charge, allowing Arwel Thomas to spin it to James.
He stood up opposite number Jovesa Naivalu before going outside and bulldozing through with a hand off.
Thomas' try apart, it was a desperately scrappy game, with Wales trying too much, too early.
Over-ambitious movements resulted in numerous spilt balls and wayward passes.
More worringly, the line out was a shambles, Garin Jenkins and Andrew Lewis' uncertain throwing in meaning the team struggled to deliver clean first-phase possession.
It all came right in the 25th minute, though, when Chris Wyatt took a clean take from the line out.
He offloaded to Taylor who had a clear run to the line, enabling the captain to continue his remarkable scoring record at the Millennium Stadium.
The Eagles fought back after the break, but Thomas' try ended any distant thoughts of an upset and helped open the floodgates.
Rhys Williams got a try after an excellent Bateman break, before Dafydd James broke from defence for his second score.
Not to be ignored in the fly-half race, 66th-minute replacement Neil Jenkins scored a last-minute try under the posts.
Wales had battered the brave Eagles defence and when the ball was recycled near their line Jenkins made a clean break.
A big improvement will be needed against the Springboks but there were encouraging performances from Darren Morris and Bateman, and Chris Wyatt showed a welcome return to international form.
Graham Henry said: "It was disappointing as we went into the game complacently and in the end that's how we played.
"The expectation should have been higher and we will have to sit down and think about team selection for next Saturday. It is a possibility that I will make changes because our handling was poor.
"The ideas were there but we did not have the handling to carry them out and it's something we will be working on in training.
"Our handling, catching and passing were shameful and we won't be allowed to do that against South Africa."
Looking on the bright side, Henry said:
"I thought our wingers did well today and that's a bonus point. The wingers were our best players along with the full-back and that's what I'm trying to look at if I'm being positive - and the players looked beautiful coming out of the tunnel in their new strip as well!"
USA head coach Duncan Hall said he was pleased with his side's efforts as they produced a respectable performance.
He said: "We could have had a few more points and I think this display will have earned the respect of the rugby world.
"The game turned just after we scored our try. We let them get one back straight away and if we hadn't it could have been a different game."
Arwel Thomas was pleased with his try, but not the overall performance.
"I enjoyed the try, my first in the stadium," he told BBC Wales.
"It was a difficult game - we didn't seem to get into it at all.
"There are a lot of disappointed faces in the changing room."
He was not worried when Neil Jenkins replaced him late in the game, saying he expected it in a 22-man game.
Thomas' disappointment with the performance was echoed by Dafydd James and Chris Wyatt.
"We've got a lot of work to do before next week," said James.
Graham Henry described Arwel Thomas' display against Samoa as 'adequate,' and he has been annoyed at the focus placed on the number 10 shirt by the Welsh media.
He could be furious now, as all people will be talking about after this match will be Thomas' moment of magic.
Stories of the outside-half factory and wonder tries by the likes of Barry John, Phil Bennett and Jonathan Davies will be flying around Wales this week.
Little over 10 minutes after his score, though, Thomas was taken from the pitch to a standing ovation, replaced by Neil Jenkins.
Thomas has been outstanding against both Samoa and the USA, but the pragmatic Henry may still see Jenkins as his man for next week's big test against South Africa.
Scorers - Wales: Tries: D James (2), M Taylor, A Thomas, R Williams, N Jenkins; Cons: A Thomas (2), N Jenkins; Pens: A Thomas (2)
USA Eagles: Try: M Delai; Pens: G Wells (2)
Teams - Wales: R Williams (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton), M Taylor (Swansea, capt), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Llanelli); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); D Morris (Swansea), G Jenkins (Swansea), B Evans (B Evans), C Wyatt (Lanelli), I Gough (Newport), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), N Budgett (Ebbw Vale)
USA: K Shuman, J Naivalu, P Eloff, J Grobler, M Delai, G Wells, K Dalzell, J Clayton, K Khasigian, P Still, L Gross, P Farner, D Hodges (capt), O Fifita, D Lyle
Referee: Ian Ramage (Scotland)
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