Can Lomu play on our side, please?

Owen Slot explains how rugby union's world elite will make history this week
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The Independent Online
IF THE soul of rugby union appears to have been sold off by the new professional world, then consider the events that are to take place on Tuesday night at Stradey Park, in Llanelli. Two teams dripping with class and international caps will play in long, baggy shorts and collar- less shirts, but it is not just their kit that will echo old times. They will play for fun and they will play for free. This is the Autoglass Tribute to Ieuan Evans and it shows that all is indeed still well in the game.

Ironically, the fixture could not have taken place when rugby was always played for fun and for free. Before professionalism, Evans would not have been able to ring up his mates, invite them for a kick-around (expenses paid, nothing more) and then keep the gate receipts. But now such practice is possible, and if your name is Ieuan Evans, then players will come from all over the world to make it so.

Some recruiting was simple. "Gavin [Hastings] is a friend, he was only to delighted to come down and Will [Carling] was the same - 'No problem, delighted to play'," Evans said. He rang most of the British players, while the task of recruiting the foreigners fell largely to his personal manager, Emma Twidale. "When Ieuan gave me a list with names like Lomu, Campese and Farr-Jones, I thought, er, unlikely," she said, but she was surprised. Of the 60-odd invited, only David Campese did not reply. John Eales, the Wallaby lock, wrote by return of post to say what an honour it was to be invited and how sad he was he could not play, and Josh Kronfeld rang to say that he could not play himself but that he had phoned Blair Larsen (another All Black) who seemed interested in coming instead.

Some simply could not play - Nick Farr-Jones had work commitments and Michael Lynagh and some of the Welsh and Irish players had club commitments to the European Rugby Cup. But the majority jumped at it. "You are amazed how charming these people are," Twidale said. "They are genuinely flattered that another player wants them to play in their team."

Some were so keen they even rang up asking for an invitation. Among their number was John Gallagher, the former All Black full-back who went to rugby league, and so the match is something of a coup - his return game to the union code. The biggest coup of all, though, was the recruiting of Jonah Lomu. His was one of the first names to be inked in and that, said Evans, "gave the thing the kick-start I wanted. His presence will sell seats." His presence has also ensured that a number of the other players have asked if they can be on his side.

Half-way through last week, the only hole in the line-up was at scrum- half for the International XV, a position they had been holding in the hope of getting Farr-Jones. Twidale explained the dilemma to Andre Joubert's wife, who happened to be staying with her in London for yesterday's international. The dilemma was passed on to Joubert himself (who also wanted to play but couldn't) and two days later Joubert had signed up Johan Roux, the Springboks reserve No 9. So the teams were complete: over 900 caps, another 130 on the bench.

The spirit in which the game is being approached is perhaps best illustrated by Jason Little. Little had a problem: he wanted to come (from Australia) but was due in Dubai the day after for the Dubai Sevens. So he was told: do come, but would you mind getting up at 5am the next day to catch your flight? No, came the reply, of course he wouldn't. It was the sort of response which explains why Evans feels flattered by the reception his game has received. "Ieuan's so excited," Twidale said. "He's like a little boy."

British Isles XV: G Hastings (Sco); I Evans (Wal), W Carling (Eng), S Hastings, K Logan; C Chalmers (all Sco), R Moon (Wal); J Leonard (Eng), G Jenkins, J Davies, P Davies (Wal), M Bayfield (Eng), M Perego (Wal), R Wainwright (Sco), N Back (Eng).

International Select XV: J Gallagher (NZ); J Olivier (SA), T Lacroix (Fr), J Little (Aus), J Lomu (NZ); M Catt (Eng), J Roux (SA); R Evans (Wal), S Fitzpatrick (NZ), A Skeggs (Aus), M Tchadjian, O Roumat, M Cecillon (all Fr), R Straeuli (SA), L Cabannes (Fr).

Replacements: A Moore, W Proctor, R Howley, N Jenkins, J Griffiths, C Loader, H Williams-Jones, J Thomas (all Wal), N Jack (NZ).

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