Andrew lets the mask slip

There always was more to the England stand-off than met the eye. Steve Bale looks behind the clean-cut image
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The Independent Online
Nothing less became Rob Andrew than the manner of his going, a dirty business considering the England outside-half is known as "squeaky", as in squeaky clean. Wasps got rid of him because he was seen to be suborning their players from within.

The moment when Andrew, in the alternative capacity of Newcastle development director he had been trying to combine with playing on for Wasps, signed Dean Ryan - the Wasps captain, if you please - was the moment he disqualified himself from ever again representing the London club.

And, by extension, rendered the tenure of his England place no longer feasible; hence his international retirement. As long as the Rugby Football Union keeps in place its 120-day qualification for transferred players Andrew will have to make do with second-team rugby, but in any case it was clearly time to get on with the job for which he is being paid so handsomely.

Moreover he can now do his wheeling and dealing openly - which will not make him any more popular but will at least have the virtue of honesty which we are told is what "open" rugby is all about. After his appointment at Newcastle, Andrew said he would not be after any Wasps players - when all the time this was precisely his intention.

How bitterly ironic that Ryan of all people even went so far as to warn Andrew off, only to become the first defector as Andrew's assistant development director. That Nick Popplewell is now taking the trail to Tyneside is incidental but further justification for Wasps that they had to do something publicly to give a proper priority to loyalty and team-building.

There is a shattering of illusions involved here and it is partly Wasps' fault for imagining that they could allow Andrew to carry on regardless. Those who have played alongside him this season would admit that his mind has been elsewhere ever since he signed the famous pounds 750,000, five-year deal to become "the Kevin Keegan of rugby".

Remembering, too, that Andrew was the chief English recruiting-officer when Kerry Packer's minions were trying to make their own signings on behalf of the now-defunct World Rugby Championship during the summer, perhaps we should not be surprised. Yet it is worth also reminding ourselves that throughout his career Andrew has unfailingly presented the very best - squeaky clean - of images.

The contention that attached itself to him therefore had nothing to do with Andrew personally but to his worth as a player. That he should have ended with 70 caps, 60 more than his long-term rival Stuart Barnes, is all the justification he needs but it also betrays the conservative sensibilities of England managements as much as England teams over a decade that he should first have been given so many chances and then become so indispensable that even Jack Rowell continued to choose him.

The end result is that to this day England are searching for the elixir that will make them a genuine attacking force. Barnes, who for all his waywardness was always the better attacker, was never permitted one decent run, let alone a second chance, so we will never know if he might have wrought the change.

On the other hand, what Andrew did he did exceptionally well, or at least he did once his faltering career had been kick-started by playing in partnership with Robert Jones on the 1989 Lions tour of Australia. As a kicker, he became as reliable, whether aiming for goal, touch or the open spaces, as any England have ever had, having previously been every bit as unreliable.

As a runner, however, he seldom lived up to the early promise of his halcyon years at Cambridge. In the 1984 University match, his third, Andrew ran everything, even from the kick-off, and launched the Light Blues into an 18-point lead in 20 minutes. He was flattering to deceive - which is not to denigrate a fine player, but simply to show that his ultimate triumph was to appreciate his limitations and to concentrate on doing well what he did best. When Rowell became manager, he was challenged to radicalise his game - and with it England's - and did not succeed.

Privately this was an intense frustration for Rowell, who was a Barnes man but could not do without Andrew's capacity for points accumulation even if his presence at outside-half in effect sabotaged everyone else's best efforts at producing a more expansive, higher-risk - ie alien - type of rugby.

In fact, there was no certainty that Andrew would have been selected for the South Africa match on 18 November, though he was there as usual when the squad trained at Marlow last Tuesday. The best Rowell would say of him amid yesterday's tributes was that he had "improved a lot" over the past year or so - scarcely a recommendation for a 32-year-old with 10 years and 70 games of international rugby behind him.

This is a shame because, sour though the aftertaste of his enforced departure from Wasps may be, there never was a more decent or affable fellow who played rugby for England. But when it came down to it, even Rob Andrew could not in honour and conscience serve two masters.