close-up: Rob Andrew: Wasp who changed his stripes

Owen Slot charts the week when England's outstanding stand-off said goodbye to his place with club and country
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The Independent Online
A SQUALLY afternoon last December was probably the first of many memorable days that Rob Andrew will have at Kingston Park. After 47 seconds, he broke for the line, scored the first of three tries and set off towards a personal haul of 26 points. Newcastle Gosforth, the home side, were beaten 58-12 and Wasps were through to the fifth round of the Pilkington Cup. Ten months later, Newcastle Gosforth have changed name and Andrew has changed sides. And last week, he scored so many points against his old club that they were forced into a move that precipitated the end of his career as an international player, indeed as England's highest points- scorer of all time.

There was little astonishment at eight o'clock on Thursday evening when Wasps announced that Andrew, who had signed a number of their players for Newcastle, was no longer available for selection. There was widespread surprise 20 minutes later, however, when Andrew announced that he was to retire from international rugby. "I only found out after training," said Damian Hopley, who had just become a former team-mate. "I must admit, I was very shocked." By then, though, Andrew, who had come to Sudbury to receive his dismissal, was miles away, a Wasps and England player no more.

Two evenings earlier, Andrew had been at Marlow for the second England training session of the season. The players started arriving at six o'clock; an hour later Jack Rowell, the England manager, had started his address and 10 minutes into it Andrew had slunk in, still in shirt sleeves and suit trousers. Nothing else suggested any lack of commitment to the cause. Training finished at 9.05pm, but Andrew continued practising his kicking and 40 minutes later, with Dave Alred, his kicking coach, and Tim Stimpson, the West Hartlepool full-back, he was the last to leave the pitch.

The following night, he was one of the guest speakers in a charity dinner in the Rose Room at Twickenham and gave further evidence of his desire to continue playing for England. "In his speech," said Rob Jones, the Wales scrum-half who was one of the guests, "he seemed adamant that he would be available for the internationals."

On Thursday morning, however, when he was telephoned by Rob Smith, his coach at Wasps, and asked to attend a meeting before training that night, he second-guessed Smith's intentions and started preparing for them. As was suggested by the immaculate wording and speedy delivery of the 278- word statement that announced his international retirement that night, the decision was no snap reaction to his dismissal by Wasps. That afternoon, Andrew had visited his agent, Geoffrey Hamilton-Fairley, at his office off Trafalgar Square and together they wrote the statement. Andrew even went so far as to telephone the Press Association's rugby correspondent to check his fax number just in case.

His suspicions were all played out. He and Dean Ryan, the Wasps captain who he was taking to Newcastle, met Smith, a friendly, sombre encounter at the club, they then signed a few photographs at the bar and left. Andrew phoned his agent, his agent faxed the Press Association, the England career was over.

Jack Rowell and Will Carling were quick to express regret, but such sentiments were also felt at Wasps. "I hope he reconsiders the decision. He certainly has the ability to do the job against South Africa," said Jeff Probyn, the former England prop, now chairman of Wasps' selectors. "It was a terrible way to end a rugby career," said Malcolm Sinclair, the first-team manager, who was on the committee that decided Andrew should leave. "It was obvious that Rob wasn't going to play for England again if we cut him out. This was mentioned but it wasn't really the point. Ours was a clear-cut decision. It wasn't problematic, just sad."

While the club is united in thanking Andrew for his years of service, some within it feel that he should have been asked to leave weeks ago. The management were far from impressed in the summer when he had tried to recruit a number of Wasps players to Kerry Packer's World Rugby Championship. "But once the Packer deal was off," Probyn said, "Wasps welcomed Rob with open arms. We were only too pleased to have him here."

Probyn, however, was the first to argue that Andrew should go - that he could not serve two masters - when he signed for Newcastle a month ago. Norman Hadley, Wasps' international lock, gave weight to his opinion, but it was business as usual until last week.

It kicked off with Monday's announcement that Ryan was going north. Smith reacted to the news by ringing round his players, asking whether they thought Andrew and Ryan should play out their 120-day Newcastle qualification period at Wasps. On the basis of this collated opinion, Smith argued that they should stay when he met with Sinclair and Probyn the following night before training. Sinclair sided with Smith, Probyn opposed them. Andrew was at England training that night, as was Hopley who was to discover that "feelings were running quite high" among the team. "Apparently people were saying that if this was a business, then Dean and Rob would have been given a cardboard box and told to get rid of their stuff immediately."

After training, however, Steve Bates, the long-serving scrum-half, approached Smith and Sinclair told them that he too would be going to Newcastle for the next season. And the following morning, the RFU registrar telephoned Sinclair to tell him that in the list of players on the move he receives each Wednesday, he would discover that Nick Popplewell, Wasps' international prop, was to go to Newcastle too. "Until then we were thinking we could keep the ship together," Sinclair said. Even though Bates and Popplewell were due to leave anyway, "it was these two that tipped the balance."

On Wednesday morning, Smith and Sinclair talked, both now convinced that Andrew and Ryan had to go. That night, the club's executive committee met and unanimously endorsed their decision and on Thursday Andrew and Ryan came to the club to receive their marching orders. "It was certainly sad having to break the news," Smith said. "My main concern was to speak to them face to face. It was a friendly meeting; after all, we have worked together for a long time."

Smith's next job was to tell a team meeting what had happened. "They were very quiet, very sad about the news. But we were going downwards and now we are going upwards." Andrew and Ryan then left the club, and the team went out to train with barely the chance to say goodbye.

The next time they are all likely to meet on a rugby field is in a Wasps v Newcastle fixture in December, one day short of a year since Andrew scored that hat-trick against Newcastle at Kingston Park. The game is being called a friendly, though it is unsure whether this description will still fit. Neither can anyone be certain quite how many more Wasps players that day will be wearing Newcastle shirts.

A diary of defection

5 September Newcastle United announce takeover of Newcastle Gosforth.

7 September Rob Andrew is approached for the first time by Newcastle representatives.

21 September Andrew formally appointed director of rugby at Newcastle.

4 October Graham Childs, Wasps England B centre, signs for Newcastle. Childs had moved to Co Durham because of work and had registered with West Hartlepool, so was already leaving Wasps.

11 October Nick Popplewell, the Irish prop already due to leave Wasps, signs for Newcastle. The arrangement is for him to play the last six games of the season; there is no agreement as to whether he will stay any longer.

16 October Dean Ryan, Wasps' captain, announces he is to go to Newcastle as Andrew's deputy. His three- year contract is worth around pounds 150,000.

17 October Steve Bates, Wasps' England scrum-half, tells the club that he will go to Newcastle next season. He will be coach, and is said to be on much the same deal as Ryan.

18 October Popplewell's defection becomes public. He says he made the initial approach to Andrew. "On my mother's life," he said, "I went to him."