Rugby union diary : Cap that won't fit

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The Independent Online
THE events of last Monday will take a long time to fade from the memory of Dale McIntosh, the Pontypridd No 8. The morning papers had hailed him as the next Wales No 8 after an ankle injury had ruled out Emyr Lewis, the current incumbent, from the running for the Five Nations game against France in January. But flicking through the teletext on his TV that night, he noticed a story in which his name made the headline. And on further reading, he discovered the news that he was not, in fact, eligibl e to play for Wales at all.

McIntosh is a New Zealander born and bred but he came to Wales on holiday almost six years ago, decided to stay, and on New Year's Day, he thought, he would become eligible for a Welsh cap. Not so, according to the International Rugby Board which had ruled, last March, that players must sit out a three-year exclusion if they have played for another country. Three months previously, McIntosh had played for Scotland A against Italy, a game he had qualified for because of his Scottish grand-parentage. McIntosh is more than a little peeved: he would never have played that game if he had an inkling of what the IRB had up its sleeve.

"I'm adamant about that," he says. "After that game, I was picked for a national trial, and it was then that I had to make a decision. People say the full cap was there for me in Scotland, but I opted for Wales. I'm engaged to a Welsh girl, I've got a son who is Welsh, my friends are Welsh, Wales is my destiny."

The ironies are many. Had McIntosh lived in England, he could have played for the national side after three years' residency; had he lived in Hong Kong, he could have been an international after just six months. It was only because he waited so long to qualify for Wales - where such a tough stance is taken to international fly-by-nights - that he was in a position to trip on the then unwritten IRB rule.

Furthermore, at the start of the season, McIntosh received notification from the Welsh RU to say that he would soon be eligible. It was only after Lewis's injury, when McIntosh's Welsh cap became imminent, that a journalist rang the IRB to check his eligibility. Had that call not been made, it seems quite likely that no one would have realised the situation and McIntosh would probably be walking on to the Parc des Princes in January for his first international cap.

Neil Jenkins, McIntosh's club-mate and work colleague, was outraged by the situation and went on national television to say so. McIntosh is so outraged that he is already planning an appeal. His life's ambition is to play for Wales against the All Blacksand this seemed a distinct possibility in the summer's World Cup. "But," he says, "I've been given another two-year sentence to serve. And it really does seem like a sentence now."

THE fashion police would have had their hands full on Grandstand last Saturday where Mick Skinner was doing his best to challenge Barry Venison (Football Focus) for the worst-dressed-pundit-of-the-year award. Skinner appeared in jeans, velvet jacket, white wing-collar shirt and burgundy bow-tie. By full-time, however, the jacket had gone, arousing suspicion that either the police had, in fact, moved in. Or maybe a studio producer had interjected, concerned about the possibility of cracked camera lenses.Not so. He had simply found the studio lights to hot to handle and the jacket had come off: too great a physical challenge, even for a monster of fashion like Skinner.

FINALLY, some Christmas gift tips for the rugby fan who thought he had everything. Highly recommended is the Ieuan Evans range of fragrances, Ieuan No 14 and Ieuan No 8 (the presentation pack costs £19.99 from Body Reform in Cardiff and Bristol). Proceeds go to a charity for injured Welsh players, so a seasonal sales boom might help the eponymous No 14 get back on the pitch. Stocking fillers could come from the new Twickenham East Stand shop: Twickers knickers (complete with embroidered England rose) an d key rings (with three genuine blades of Twickers grass) are going for £3 each. For £250, you can pick up the shirt worn by the All Black Alan Hewson when he broke the world points record with 27 points against Australia (mail order from Rugby Relics,6

1 Leonard St, Neath). Slightly cheaper are official World Cup condoms, though you'll have to fly to South Africa to find one.