Quinnell rises and hopes to shine

Owen Slot talks to a young flanker who is the latest cap in a great Welsh dynasty
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a fraught morning in the Quinnell household the Tuesday before last. At 7.30am, Derek woke his son Craig and told him to get up. There was a press conference in Cardiff that morning to announce the Wales team to play Fiji, and Craig was expected to be there as he was in the team. Craig, a young Llanelli flanker of enormous potential, had never been selected for Wales before, or even for Wales A, so he didn't believe his old man and went back to bed. "But then he shouted at me and said 'I'm not joking, get up.' So I did." And that was how Craig Quinnell was welcomed to international rugby.

The rest of the day was much as you might expect for the son of a famous Welsh international, the brother of another and, of course, the nephew of Barry John. He did the press conference to lighten the media load and he met the requests for television interviews afterwards. But still there were four or five more invitations for him to appear on four or five forthcoming TV programmes. "They were all going to ask me exactly the same questions and I didn't really want to do that," he said. "Every year I've had it. When I was picked for the Under-21s, when I was picked for the youth, and when I was picked for the schools I had it too. I know I might only be 20, but I've had it for four years. My brother's had it and my father's had it too. I've been at work some days [he works with his father] and we haven't been able to do any work because the press has been on the phone all day."

Not that Quinnell is underwhelmed by his call-up. He has been to the National Stadium in Cardiff recently, "and I've tried to imagine what it's going to be like", he said. "I can't. I just can't think how it will feel to run out there." However, when the moment does arrive, he will be loaded with far more emotional baggage than any of the other debutants. And now that the wait for his first international cap is over, there are those who say it has come too soon.

Those who criticise, and the former Welsh international fly-half Phil Bennett is among them, wish there was more time for the raw talent to refine itself. More damaging are the detractors who say that his surname won him selection. The fact that his father is on Wales's five-man selection board makes theirs an easy point.

Kevin Bowring, the Wales coach who led the selection discussion the night before Quinnell was booted out of bed, leaps to the young man's defence. "He's there on merit and we all felt that. And Derek didn't contribute a great deal to this discussion. As you would expect, he held his personal views to himself. We felt we needed a tall man, a line-out presence, which Quinnell offered. We looked at ball-winning ability and we felt he had that too. Then we looked at his ability to carry the ball, break tackles and lay it off, and he certainly has that - in fact it's a Quinnell family feature."

But does he have that other family feature, that capacity to be a great player? Rupert Moon, who has played at Llanelli with Scott and Craig, can see it all. "He plays a lot better on a bigger stage - same as Scott. They love to perform, both of them. But he's bigger and stronger than Scott and he has more natural fitness too."

Craig, however, is bored of the comparisons. "Scott proved himself and I'm proving myself now. Neither my father nor my brother can go out and do it for me." They will, however, both be in Cardiff to watch him do it for himself. Scott has to train with Wigan at Central Park on Saturday morning, but he will be in Cardiff for the game, and then back up north the following day to play.

Such support is the way of life in the Quinnell clan. Craig was in Leeds on Friday to watch Scott play and the pair of them - with parents and uncles too - can frequently be seen on a Sunday morning watching Gavin, their younger brother, represent the Llanelli Under-12s.

Even the critics, in this case, would love to see Craig follow in the family footsteps to success. "When Scott won his first cap, I said his call-up had happened a bit early," Bennett wrote in the South Wales Evening Post. Scott has proved him wrong; Bennett hopes that Craig will do the same.