Rugby Union: Partial eclipse of Wales' favourite son

Tim Glover talks to the No 8 whose career has been at sixes and sevens; He's big, he's on big money, he punches his weight, and he's a danger to shipping. So why isn't Scott Quinnell playing in Dublin?
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The Independent Online
THE flashback illuminates the memory. Scott Quinnell commandeers the ball at a line-out, hands off one Frenchman, swerves past another, beats yet another for pace, and crashes through the last line of defence before athletically planting the ball in the right-hand corner of Cardiff Arms Park for one of the great individual tries by a forward. "It crosses my mind occasionally," he said.

Four years ago Wales defeated France, won the Five Nations' Championship and it looked as if everything was coming up daffodils. Never mind the fly-half factory, Wales had found a No 8 to fill the shadow of the all- purpose Mervyn Davies. A lot has happened to Quinnell since then but not as much as should have done. When he was sent off playing for Richmond against Newcastle last Saturday, a commentator described him as an enigma. "I don't know what that means," Quinnell said - a perfect response.

He's big, he's young, he's earning big money, he punches his weight and he's a danger to shipping. "You've heard the rumour?" he was asked. "About Martin Johnson? I can't understand how these things get started. People still ask me about it. It's laughable. I get on very well with him." The word was that Quinnell made a sudden departure from the Lions tour of South Africa last summer because he butted Johnson, thetourists' captain. In fact, he flew back for a hernia operation.

"The decision to return home was one of the hardest of my life," he said, "but if I'd stayed I don't think I'd have done myself any favours." From being the front-line Lions No 8, he lost a hernia, gained a lot of weight and missed pre-season training with Richmond.

As far as Wales are concerned Quinnell can no longer be sure of anything. A burst blood vessel in a hand cut short his appearance against England at Twickenham and he was on the bench for the match against Scotland at Wembley. However, he came on as a replacement and at least Wales won. Then, for yesterday's encounter against the Irish, Quinnell was demoted not only from the team but also from the bench. Had he not been serving a four-week suspension for last week's red card (he kneed a player in the head) he would have played in the Wales A team on Friday night.

OK Scotty, so you didn't nut Johnson but does this meanyou're ready to tell Wales and the coach, Kevin Bowring, to stuff it? "I don't think I did anything wrong against Scotland. I was a bit disappointed but you've got to pick yourself up. If I'm not playing well they won't pick me. If I'm playing well they will." But will they?

"It's out of my hands," Quinnell added. "It's up to the selectors. I have got to keep on improving and one day I'll get back in the side. Things change week to week. The player who tells you he's learned everything is a liar."

There's no suggestion that you got yourself sent off deliberately but missing the A game was a huge relief, wasn't it? "I was looking forward to it. I haven't played for the A team for three years and it would have given me a chance to prove myself."

OK, so you left Llanelli upon Skid Row for Richmond upon Thames, via Wigan, for big bucks and had problems with the Welsh Rugby Union because they wouldn't pay you a year's takings from the Severn Bridge toll for the odd training session in Cardiff?

"As players in England we never expected to get as much from the WRU as somebody who had stayed in Wales. We agree with that but they weren't going to give us anything at all. It's all been sorted so I don't think that's a factor. I hope not."

Right. So there's obviously a clash with Bowring? "I don't see a problem. I played under him when he was in charge of Wales A. We get on fine."

Perhaps, then, you're playing rubbish? "At the start of the season I was struggling for fitness but in the last six weeks I've lost 19lb and I've been playing better than at any time since I came back from rugby league. One day we might get the recognition some of our performances deserve. There's no point in saying anything. We've got to keep our heads down."

The Richmond coach, John Kingston, signed a choir of Welshmen, all of whom have been omitted by their country, bar Allan Bateman. "I like raw power," Kingston said. "I told the owner we'd never get Scott and he said do it whatever the cost. Scott's been massively important. When we got his brother Craig I knew that Scott would put in 110 per cent.

"The way they've all been treated by Wales is a disgrace. Scott is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Nobody's come up to watch him or the others. There's been no dialogue. It's pathetic. They don't look after them in Wales. We do here."

No doubt about that. There's a story of a Richmond player who had a cheque in his pocket for six months. When he finally went to cash it he discovered it had passed its sell-by date and had to be reissued. It was for pounds 50,000.

Scott, who reckons the English Premiership is far harder than anything he's played in before, is sitting in the new all American Cafe-Bar at the Athletic Ground. An elderly Welshman approaches and recalls watching Derek Quinnell, Scott's father, playing for Llanelli against London Welsh at Old Deer Park a couple of decades ago. "I was there," Scott says. "I was picking conkers."

The great chestnut is interrupted by his even bigger brother. "Come on," Craig yells. "If you're late you'll be fined." There's training, ten-pin bowling, a spot of golf and a few days off.

The Taffia have bought homes in Walton-on-Thames but while Wales were in Dublin, Scott and his family were in a caravan back in west Wales. Almost the greatest thing since sliced lava bread.