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Yapp is thriving in tight situation; Wales prop keen to make up for lost time.

Byline: Simon ROBERTS

WHEN John Yapp made his Wales debut, his future as a Test match player never looked in doubt.

The sight of the 21-year-old replacement prop rampaging across the field during Wales' 11-9 victory over England at the Millennium Stadium in 2005, was one of the great cameos of that Grand Slam campaign.

Three years on, Yapp is still fighting to establish himself for his country and at his region.

Injuries, loss of form and a certain Gethin Jenkins have meant that the Cardiff-born front-rower has won only eight caps for Wales.

Now Yapp has been thrown an international lifeline, after being drafted into the new-look Wales side to face Canada, and a chance to remind everybody about what he can do.

But life has changed for the 25-year-old. He has now played in Australia and has been asked to play tighthead by Warren Gatland, the Wales coach.

Yapp, who was originally reluctant to move from loose head to tighthead, is now preparing for a new long-term role for Wales.

"I have only played three games there this season and that isn't enough," said Yapp.

"I just need to play more games there. I just need the opportunity.

"But it's like having two trades, if you can play both sides of the scrum. It gives you more opportunities if you can play loose and tighthead prop.

"You are more valuable for your coaches."

"I know I need to play more games as a tighthead this season.

"I need to build up my experience in that position and then I will start next season as a tighthead for the Blues.

"I just need to get those games under my belt, in the Premiership, and get more experience.

"But it is a totally different position, with very different demands.

I have got better in each game."

Gatland has identified the lack of competition at number three as an area which needs to be addressed.

Adam Jones, who was superb against South Africa, is out on his own as the best tighthead in Wales.

The jury is still out on Rhys Thomas, the Dragons tighthead, but Yapp isn't under-estimating the challenge ahead of him.

"They are top players, that's why they are here," said Yapp.

"Adam's strength is that he is a great scrummager.

"On the loosehead side there is even more competition. That is a good challenge because you know you are going to have to be better than them to get in the side."

Yapp, who will revert to his favoured loose head role against Canada, is highly regarded by Gatland.

Wales' Grand Slam coach tried to sign Yapp during his last season with Wasps in 2005.

Yapp's all-action ball-carrying ability is well known but now he knows he has to become a master of the dark art of front-row play.

The fact he has two coaches - Gatland and David Young, the Blues coach-who played in the front-row to learn from is not lost on him.

"Warren and Dai's knowledge of the game, having played at the top level for so long, is great for me," said Yapp.

"They both played in the front-row and know so much about the scrum and the technical stuff you need to now."

For now, Yapp knows tomorrow night's clash is a chance to lay down a marker and remind everybody that he is still around.

"Canada will be up for it," said Yapp.

"They didn't score any points against Ireland but they are always a tough, physical side.

"We know it's going to be a tough, tough game.

"They will try and put us off our game."

But he knows the rampaging bull stuff around the field will get him only so far in the current regime. The nitty-gritty of front-row play is where he will be judged by Gatland.

"I want to perform well and do the basics well," said Yapp.

"It's a great boost to be called back into the side - it's every boy's dream to play for Wales.

"I just don't want to think about things too much and just get on with the rugby.

"I still feel I have a lot more to offer. Hopefully, I will get a few more Wales caps."

simon.roberts@mediawales.co.uk
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 13, 2008
Words:710
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