Rugby Union: Quinnell big enough to take the knocks

Depending on your point of view, Scott Quinnell is either the most gifted forward in British rugby or a one-man awkward squad far more trouble than he is worth.

As Richmond prepared to mix it with Bath in this afternoon's big Tetley's Bitter Cup tie at the Recreation Ground, Chris Hewett tracked down an elusive talent and found him full of positive intent.

A great French film director once aimed a sardonic sneer in the direction of his contemporaries across the Channel by dismissing the expression "British movie" as a contradiction in terms. There are those who consider the Scott Quinnell Interview to be something very similar and it is undeniably true that the famously taciturn Welshman would much rather play a good game than talk one. When groin problems forced him to abandon last summer's Lions tour of South Africa, he was on the plane home before the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the rugby press realised he was injured.

"The hardest decision of my life, that was," he says now, sitting bolt upright in the empty bar of the Richmond clubhouse, staring suspiciously at the notebook before him and looking about as comfortable as a shark in a sand dune. "It was a double hernia, as it turned out. I'd been struggling with it for a while, but I felt fit and strong enough when we first flew down to Jo'burg. I just happened to aggravate it in the game against Northern Transvaal and I knew it would take increasingly long periods of treatment to get me ready for matches. In the end, I felt I wouldn't do justice to myself or the squad by sticking around."

So Quinnell, a stone-cold certainty for the Test No 8 spot, became the Lion Who Never Was. His critics back home in the valleys call him something else: the Welshman Who Never Was. If they go misty-eyed at the mere mention of his rugby ancestry - his father Derek was a three-tour Lion while his uncle, Barry John, remains a 24-carat legend - they soon purse their lips at Scotty's unspeakable defection to rugby league, his equally heinous decision to return to 15-man business with a swanky London outfit like Richmond rather than his Llanelli nursery, his much-publicised contractual squabble with the Welsh Rugby Union.

All of which hurts, though Quinnell is too self-contained a character to show it. What he does display, repeatedly, is a genuine enthusiasm for international rugby, a relish that is about to manifest itself in the annual hothouse of the Five Nations' Championship. "Of course, I'm committed to Wales," he says. "I don't play for anyone unless I'm committed. I'm not the sort to turn up out of habit or because there's nothing better to do. Apart from injury, nothing has kept me out of a Welsh squad since Christmas '96. I'm in the present squad and I badly want to play in what I believe has the makings of a very strong team. I'm no different to any other Welshman when it comes to the red shirt. No different at all."

It is startling to think that Quinnell, 25 last August, has yet to reach the midway point of his career. His name, made famous by the family flesh and blood that went before him, was being bandied around the west Wales grapevine before he started shaving and he climbed the rungs of the representative ladder as to the manner born. He made his Test debut against Canada in 1993 as a blind-side flanker before lording it over the rest of Europe with some thunderous displays at No 8 as Wales won the 1994 Five Nations.

He had the world at his feet. Unfortunately for an adoring Welsh public, that world was an amateur one. Rugby's big bucks were then confined to league and when Quinnell signed for Wigan, the sound of a thousand camera shutters snapping in unison was drowned out by the wailing and gnashing of teeth back home. When the bucks transferred themselves to south-west London, he resurfaced at the Richmond Athletic Ground. Does that make him a rugby mercenary, a bounty-hunting slave to his own bank account?

"It's a professional game and players make the best living they can," he says with unarguable logic. "I felt it was better for me and my rugby to get out of Wales, even though it's my home and there is nothing I enjoy more than going back over the bridge and spending time with the boys in the squad. To be honest with you, I found London difficult to come to terms with at first, but the simple fact is that there is now a huge difference between the club games in the two countries.

"In Wales you can still rest players and beat the weaker sides by 50 points. You simply cannot do that in the English Premiership, where the week-in, week-out matches are so much harder. There is no such thing as an easy 80 minutes here and if you look at what is happening at Richmond, it's making better players of us all.

"I do worry, though, about the club game back home. You can't stop people making their livelihoods and you might argue that the English-based players will strengthen the Welsh international side by bringing in new ideas. But if all the top players head for England - and if Neil Jenkins decides to join Bath, for instance, a lot of the big names could well follow him over the bridge - it will do nothing for the game domestically. If we're not careful, we'll lose the most important thing, the fan base. If the crowds start turning to other things, we're lost.

"It's a problem for the Welsh Rugby Union to sort out. I'm contracted to Richmond until 2002 and, as we speak, I can't see myself playing club rugby for a Welsh team again. But something has to be done to give the players who are there some real opportunities."

Richmond has been good for Quinnell and judging by the way he is performing at present, the benefits are mutual. The Londoners started their Premiership campaign with a limited bish-bosh game plan depressingly reminiscent of league and the wisecrackers wondered whether it had been worth Quinnell's while leaving Wigan, but Ben Clarke's expensively recruited outfit have added a harp-full of strings to their bow and are now playing with pace and style.

"There's bags of potential here and when we learn to win games while playing below our capacity, we'll be right up there with the big boys," Quinnell says. Talking of which, his outsized brother, Craig, is also cutting mustard by the jar-load at the Athletic Ground these days. "He's bloody huge, isn't he?" Scott laughs. "I'm glad he's on my side." And you realise that if both exiled siblings are going to wrap themselves in the Welsh flag over the next couple of months, it will have to be a very large flag indeed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballArsenal vs QPR match report
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
i100
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all