Rugby union diary: Jones gives the inside track

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WITH the South Africans arriving on Wednesday, Robert Jones, the Wales and Swansea scrum-half, has been preparing for the Springbok challenge in a unique way. He's been busy faxing his visiting friends: 'Look forward to seeing you,' is the tone of his note, 'and to having a drink or two when you're in town.'

Having spent most of the summer in South Africa, Jones has a few acquaintances to catch up with. As he played for Western Province and sharpened his skills in the Currie Cup, 'one of the most physical competitions in the world', selectors and coaches would do well to take note, for he has an insight which would serve them well. Jones can tell them all about player politics, who to watch and, if they are interested, who to share a beer with.

On the first count, he was surprised about the level of

inter-provincial animosity in South Africa - there is little love lost between Western Province and Northern Transvaal, no one is too fond of Transvaal - and he believes that this has not helped the collective spirit of the national team. 'You can really sense it out there, especially during the Currie Cup when provinces are more important than the national set-up,' he says.

On the second count, here is the Robert Jones whistle-stop guide to the Springboks' brightest lights, with two of his old team-mates leading the roster. Of Joel Stransky, his stand- off, Jones says: 'Naturally, half- back partners stick together, but it was with Joe that I built up my best rapport out there. He's very talented, too. Not since Naas Botha has there been a Springbok with sufficient confidence and vision to run a game - but Joe has got that ability.' Of Chester Williams, the winger, he adds: 'He has got to be one of the best wingers in the world - either up there or not far off Ieuan Evans, David Campese and Rory Underwood. He hasn't got great pace, but he's got fantastic ability to beat the man.'

Three more to watch? Mark Andrews, the Natal lock - 'the pick of the pack when South Africa toured New Zealand. They'll be looking for a lot from him.' Kevin Putt, the Natal scrum-half - 'basically, the replacement No 9, but may take first place as, along with Stransky, he has got the ability to take control of a game.' Elandre van der Berg, the Eastern Province forward who inflicted the 24-stitch wound on Jonathan Callard's face - 'I didn't play against him which, I suppose, is pretty fortunate.'

And the man to meet at the bar? 'Tommy Laubscher, the Western Province prop, a farmer from near Namibia, very Afrikaans: struggles to string two words of English together but very funny. Yes, I had a couple of good nights out with him. I'm looking forward to meeting him for a drink after the Swansea game, certainly not before.'

DISQUIET among the senior English clubs could pull the plug on BSkyB's rugby coverage. Not that Sky have offended anyone. The clubs were always opposed to live coverage because of the knock-on effect at the gates, yet the Rugby Union's pounds 5m deal last March seemed to make up amply - but for the fact that the clubs have as yet received nothing. The money is reserved for ground development, but what if a club, such as Bath for instance, made its improvements last year? 'We keep on getting different stories on this one,' says David Tyler, spokesman at Bristol RFC. 'If everyone pulls together, the cameras won't come into the clubs. No one wants to go down that road, but if we've got no option . . .'

SO it's goodbye to James Small - or quite possibly, as the Springbok scoundrel's latest misdemeanours have resulted in a ban of such severity, deselection from the British Isles tour, that he is considering a move to rugby league. And it turns out that the night-club rumpus last weekend in Port Elizabeth in which Small played the leading role was started by a mix-up worthy of pantomime. One pinch of the posterior was all it took to spark Small's fury, especially as he turned round to find his stern's assailant, picked the wrong woman and instead of turning the other cheek, grabbed her roughly by the wrist. Her boyfriend, Ian Macleod, a Springbok waterskier, slapped Small on the back of the head and was then hit three times in return.

The following day gave a glimpse of Small's sweeter side when he put a call through to Macleod to apologise. While Macleod accepted the apology and recommended that Small take some counselling, his father took the pardon even further, rang Jannie Engelbrecht, the Springbok manager, and pleaded for Small's forgiveness.

EIGHTEEN years ago today, Wales were seconds from defeat by an Argentine side inspired by their left wing, Gauweloose. The ball went from centre to full-back and then to Gauweloose who swerved past JPR Williams and ran in from 45 yards. Phil Bennett saved Wales, 20-19, with an injury-time penalty, but Williams has not forgotten his missed tackle. 'To be fair, he was going very fast, but I wasn't impressed with myself. No one else, though, got anywhere near him.'

(Photograph omitted)