Rugby Union: Andrew gambles on Newcastle's new era

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Rob Andrew yesterday gave up Wasps and a prosperous career as a London chartered surveyor - as well as quite possibly putting at risk his other career as England's outside-half - when he became the new Newcastle RFC Ltd's development director. But, as handsome compensation, he will receive around pounds 750,000 over the five years of his contract.

Which is nice work if you can get it, nice enough for a Sunderland supporter to take up the challenge and burden of being for Newcastle rugby what Kevin Keegan is for Newcastle United football now that the two clubs are under the same sporting umbrella. Newcastle United lead the Premiership.

"He will do for the game in the North-east what Kevin has done for football," Sir John Hall, the Newcastle United chairman, said. Andrew is the most important, but only the first, signing that will be made using the millions available to the rugby club as part of the Hall business empire.

Andrew, 32, will have ample funds to create a Newcastle team who will be overtly professional once the International Board and the Rugby Football Union formalise the creation of an "open" as opposed to "amateur" game. Already Ben Clarke, Tony Underwood and Mike Catt find themselves linked with Newcastle, who are also interested in the best of Scottish and Welsh rugby.

As recruiting-sergeant, there is no one better connected than Andrew, with his experience of two Lions tours as well as 70 England caps, and if the packages on offer to players even approximate to his he will be able to attract them from wherever he chooses. Barry Forster, West Hartlepool's director of rugby, said last night: "We may be just down the road geographically from Newcastle but the threat is no less great to clubs like Leicester and Bath."

Or Wasps, for whom Andrew wishes to play while undergoing the RFU's 120- day transfer stand-down and he ventures to hope his descent - however temporary - from First to Second Division will not undermine his international prospects. There is, after all, another pounds 40,000 on offer to those who keep their England places throughout the season.

The qualification period takes Andrew to 19 January, leaving him eligible first for the Pilkington Cup fifth round on 27 January if Newcastle win when they enter the competition in the fourth round. Thereafter he will be available for the final six of 18 Second Division matches.

"I hope to continue to help Wasps in the First Division until the 120 days are over," Andrew said. "By then I hopefully will have played for England against South Africa, and there's a game against Western Samoa. My ambition is still there to play for England but the decision is in other people's hands."

The Wasps coach, Rob Smith, said he would still welcome his long-standing No 10 - and Andrew is already selected to face Saracens tomorrow. But there is no such security with England, since Jack Rowell's plans for a more dynamic type of rugby will sooner rather than later demand a change in this pivotal position.

Not that England can any longer be Andrew's priority. He was introduced by Sir John at St James' Park yesterday as "the Kevin Keegan of rugby" and, having agreed that "player-manager" is as accurate a designation as any, will be as vulnerable as any football manager once he takes up his job on 1 October.

"The potential is enormous but it's not going to happen overnight," Andrew said. "Hopefully promotion will come this season but clearly it may not." So far Newcastle (Newcastle Gosforth until the Hall takeover was concluded last week) have won one and lost one.

"The North needs a major rugby club who are successful and hopefully developing the game in the schools," Andrew added. "I have a blank sheet of paper and will be developing the job description over the next few weeks, months and possibly years."

The RFU will be interested in that job description, since on it depends their approval for Andrew to represent a club of which he is an employee. Bob Rogers, chairman of the union's amateurism sub-committee (which still exists), said last night that a contradictory by-law in the 1995/96 RFU handbook explicitly preventing such an eventuality was wrong.

Slemen back in favour, page 27