TUESDAY night at St Helen's, and a chill wind swept across Swansea Bay carrying a thin spray which was picked out in the glare of the floodlights.
The Barbarians' loose-head prop had seen more glamorous settings than this, but was relishing the competition. Nick Popplewell, the Irishman who came to England, had gone to Wales to get his head down in a scrum again.
It was fairly friendly, open stuff from which Swansea came out 39-17 ahead of the Baa- Baas. It was nothing like the attrition of league rugby; Popplewell will have to wait until 3 December for that. Having emigrated from Greystones in County Wicklow, the Rugby Union's laws say he must wait 120 days before he is registered to play for his chosen side, Wasps. So before Courage League combat, it is second- team games, representative outings, even the odd international.
No such luck for Jim Staples, Popplewell's compatriot. Staples, the international full- back, moved from London Irish to Harlequins to raise his profile, but having been advised that his was a 60-day wait, he was just polishing his boots when he heard that in fact it was 120 days. No surprises when Staples' name was omitted from the national squad training this weekend.
For Popplewell, however, the break has been something of a blessing, as he was able to undergo a cruciate ligament operation a la Gazza at the end of last season.
'I had been going stale the last couple of years, and I'd played constantly for three years,' he said. ' But now I feel hungry for the game again. Also I'm 30; most people might be winding down at this stage but playing for Wasps is a step up. Yet it was a huge decision.' (He still needs a new job, he is lodging with two brothers in north London and is by no means guaranteed a first-team place at his new club.) So how was the new man in action? Not that hot, according to Richard Llewellyn, the Swansea prop opposite him. 'If that was his best, then I'm very disappointed. But I don't think he was firing on all cylinders. He had enough left in him for a few beers afterwards.'
DISCIPLINARY hearings were in vogue in New Zealand last week after seven players went before the NZRFU for their part in violent scenes in the First Division final between Auckland and North Harbour, a match which the New Zealand sports minister called a 'national disgrace'. But while they stand in the dock, pity the editor of Sky Sport's World of Rugby Union who had to cut the thuggery down to two-and-a- half minutes. ('It wasn't an easy job,' he said). So here, in brief, are the edited highlights: the first 'clean' 80 seconds, the four pairs of subsequently flying fists, Robin Brooke taking out Eric Rush ('a really good elbow chop,' explained the Kiwi commentary), the 10 players that barely noticed Walter Little's late try because they were involved in a fight 30 yards away and a line the commentator may live to regret: 'This is surely the greatest day in the history of North Harbour rugby.'
THE night before Tony Copsey, Wales's Romford-bred lock, made his international debut in 1992 was given not to team tactics but to learning the Welsh national anthem - imports know full well that, on the big day, cameras will linger to spot them fluffing their lines. Rupert Moon, however, intends to expose his home- grown team-mates. Each week, when one of them guest stars on his new show on Red Dragon Radio, they will be invited to fill Cardiff's airwaves with 'Land of my Fathers'. Ieuan Evans and Emyr Lewis will be worth listening to, the tone-deaf Mike Hall most definitely won't. 'But,' says Moon, 'there are those who say they don't sing on matchdays because they're overcome by emotion yet I suspect they don't know the words.' Garin and Neil Jenkins, your scrum-half's finger is pointing at you.
A LATE result from last weekend: United Nations Barbarians 66, Bosnia 3. The Baa- Baas, disgruntled at a recent defeat in which Bosnia levelled the series at 2-2, had recruited a number of recent Kiwi arrivals and were never in any trouble in front of the 2,000 crowd, half of whom were UN soldiers carrying Kalashnikovs. The Bosnian team had never trained together, mainly because they are a collection of Serbs, Muslims and Croats. Off the rugby field, of course, they are in the front line fighting each other.
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