Rugby Union: Hadley's second running

Tim Glover finds Sale's manager thoroughly enjoying his new lease of life
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Adrian Hadley has seen almost as many cups as the AGM of the Women's Institute. With Cardiff he was regularly getting his hands on them, then with Salford and Widnes, and if Sale beat Leicester at Twickenham on Saturday his cupboard will need an extension.

With the former England scrum-half Dewi Morris and the New Zealander player-coach John Mitchell, Hadley is the most experienced member of a side who were not expected to feature in the shake-up for a place in Europe let alone reach the final of the Pilkington Cup.

Hadley was thought to be in his heyday when he left Cardiff for rugby league in 1988 but at Heywood Road, he has discovered a second wind. As a powerfully built wing (15st 4lb) who was perhaps once thought to be Wales's answer to the All Black John Kirwan, he won 27 caps, scoring nine tries.

Although Wales finished third in the inaugural World Cup Down Under in 1987 they (and everybody else) were hammered by New Zealand. Hadley was in the habit of presenting his jersey to St Joseph's Rugby Club in Cardiff. After being beaten by the All Blacks he exchanged jerseys with Kirwan and presented the almost pristine garment to his old club. Much thanks he got for it. "The chairman remarked that swopping shirts with Kirwan was about the nearest I got to him," Hadley recalled.

A class-mate of Mark Ring, he learned his rugby at St Joseph's School and Lady Mary High and graduated to Cardiff in 1983, winning the Welsh Cup three times in six seasons. He scored 26 tries in his debut season.

Even in those days the notion of crossing the Severn Bridge to go "north" for filthy lucre was seen as the seventh deadly sin, even worse then paying the toll. If it upset his Alma Mater it infuriated his mother Margaret."She hates rugby league," Hadley said. "She's of the old school. She thought we should play rugby for fun."

Salford offered him pounds 100,000, a resounding figure nine years ago. "There was a bit of hesitation because my family didn't want me to go but finally I thought it would be stupid to turn it down."

Hadley enjoyed the "family atmosphere" at Salford, helped them to three cup finals and joined Widnes in 1992. "It was supposed to be a move to a better club," he said. "But it was a bit of a downer. They had financial problems and they never paid on time. They told us that if we didn't get to Wembley that season they wouldn't be able to fulfil our contracts. Fortunately we did but joining them was a mistake. I became very homesick. I'd train on a Tuesday, jump into my car and drive straight to Cardiff. They used to wonder where I'd got to."

After four seasons with Salford and four with Widnes, Hadley got a chance to return to his roots with the professionalism of union. He was about to rejoin Cardiff last year when he got a phone call from Paul Turner, then player-coach of Sale.

Apart from the fact that Turner had taken Sale to the Courage League Division One, Hadley, who has two sons and who had settled at Heald Green, near Cheadle, decided it "wasn't worth the hassle of moving the kids to Wales."

Despite the departure last summer of Turner to Bedford, it has been one of Hadley's better decisions. He has signed a three- year contract and at the age of 33 the thought of retirement has not crossed his mind.

He has a full-time post at the Cheshire club as team manager and the final has meant overtime. "I look after the players' wages, their food, training schedule, kit, their cars and hotel arrangements," Hadley said. Then there's the cup final tickets. "I have been up until 2am most mornings. It's a nightmare."

The first-team squad gets three tickets each and the option to buy another 17. Sale were allocated a total of 15,000. "They've all gone," Hadley said. "Which means we have suddenly found another 12,500 spectators."

Hadley could not pick a preference between union and league - "they are two completely different games" - but admitted he enjoyed watching soccer, which is not all that surprising considering he's been a lifelong Liverpool supporter. "I used to sit in front of the telly with my Liverpool scarf," he said. "I watch the occasional rugby league game and keep an eye on Widnes to see how badly they're doing. I'm quite happy at the moment because they're bottom of the table. That's a bit unfair."

One of the advantages of switching codes is that he was accustomed to professional practices. "The change for some players came as a big culture shock," Hadley said. "We have still got some who can't handle it. They can't adjust and their fitness levels are the same as last year. They have been found out."

Sale, who expect to announce a big sponsor soon, are playing their first final, having lost two semis in 1973 and 1976. "It's a huge occasion," Hadley said. "I just hope the players don't freeze. I don't think they will."

Hadley, of course, has been at Twickenham before. The last time was in 1988, when Will Carling made his debut at headquarters for England, and Hadley scored a cracking try as Wales went on to win the Triple Crown. He could not possibly have imagined he would play there again.