Wasps Rugby Club last night did the nearest thing to throwing out two of their most distinguished players when they told Rob Andrew and Dean Ryan, their defectors to Newcastle, that they would no longer be considered for selection.
Whereupon Andrew, having said all season that he wished to carry on his England career, announced his retirement from international rugby at the age of 32 with 70 caps and a record 373 points to his name. Lawrence Dallaglio replaces Ryan as captain beginning with Wasps' important First Division fixture against Leicester, fourth place v second, at Sudbury tomorrow.
The London club's trauma had been exacerbated earlier yesterday when Nick Popplewell, their Irish prop, confessed that he too would be joining Andrew, Newcastle's development director, and Ryan, Andrew's new assistant, in the North-east. This latest body-blow served to reinforce the feeling among the selectors at Sudbury that enough was enough.
Considering the conspicuous service they have given Wasps, it is a sour ending for Andrew and Ryan, although Popplewell is a different case because he had already moved back home to Dublin to take up a new job. Jack Rowell, the England manager, will not be too distraught at having to decide on a new outside-half - Mike Catt or David Pears - for the South Africa match at Twickenham on 18 November.
Ryan, in his fourth season as captain, had earlier this week become Andrew's first major recruit for Newcastle - a turn of events that forcibly changed Wasps' mind about choosing Andrew for as long as the Rugby Football Union's 120-day qualification period remained in force.
In the end, the position of both Andrew and the club became untenable when Andrew was seen to be brazenly undermining Wasps from the inside by trying to pick off their best players, using the substantial carrot of salaries reckoned in Ryan's case to be worth as much as pounds 50,000 a year.
However, Andrew's parting shot was typically gracious. "It is with great regret that I have decided to retire from international rugby," he said. "Following Wasps' decision to exclude Dean Ryan and myself from the team, I have decided that I must remove myself from any further speculation as to my possible inclusion in the England team.
"I have greatly enjoyed playing for both England and Wasps over the past 10 years and I would not want my recent appointment with Newcastle to cause any unnecessary damage to England's prospects on or off the field. As the South Africa game draws near, the squad needs stability and I, along with all the rugby fraternity, look forward to a new, fresh and successful England team developing over the next few years, culminating with England being crowned world champions in 1999."
Sir Pat Lowry, chairman of the Wasps executive, said: "In taking this decision, the executive have the following points in mind: one, the overriding priority for Wasps to retain their place as one of England's premier clubs; two, the need each week to select players who are totally motivated towards the success of the club and not distracted by commitments and responsibilities undertaken elsewhere; three, the need to build for the future."
Popplewell's decision to commute from Ireland to Tyneside rather than London is further evidence of the lure of Sir John Hall's lucre, the prop signing a registration form for Newcastle without even having agreed on a contract with Andrew. "People will say Rob's been shopping again, but that's just not true," Popplewell said. "In truth, I approached him. I haven't signed a contract yet, although obviously there will be a few bob in it for me."
The Second Division club's chequebook, as wielded by Andrew, has forced the RFU into a rapid reconsideration of its moratorium on club professionalism. This had been intended to last all season, but the RFU's professionalism commission is instead likely at the end of the month to give all its clubs permission to draw up contracts.
Meanwhile, the RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, has circulated clubs with an update of the commission's deliberations which indicates that the top end of the Courage Championship will be changed to consist of three divisions, with a First Division of 10 clubs as at present, but the Second and Third being enlarged.
n Cardiff's first offer to take Jonathan Davies back to rugby union amounted to a "derisory" pounds 30,000, Warrington said yesterday, insisting that they will not release Davies without compensation of at least pounds 200,000.Reuse content