Rugby Union: Quinnell aims to keep his cool in heat of Paris

Welsh lock seeking better self-discipline after tape reveals failings against Ireland.
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The Independent Online
IF A CONTRITE Craig Quinnell is anything to go by then Wales are going to be on their party best behaviour when they make their first Five Nations' Championship appearance in the Stade de France on Saturday for what promises to be a shuddering encounter against France.

Their coach, Graham Henry, had pinpointed indiscipline as the overriding factor behind their defeat at the hands of Ireland at Wembley last month and the Welsh training camp this week has featured a lot of drill as the players have had it hammered home just what thoughtless fists and feet can cost the whole team.

Henry said yesterday: "We have looked at a video and spoken to individuals and I think the reaction among the squad was one of surprise. We have talked about discipline and emphasised what it costs the team on the scoreboard and territorially." Tongue in cheek, he added: "I can assure everyone that there has been no punching in training this week."

One of those individuals spoken to by the former Auckland coach was Quinnell, the Richmond lock who picked up a yellow card against the Irish. During a fiery first half at Wembley Quinnell was occasionally caught up in unnecessary bouts of fisticuffs, which put his very presence on the pitch at risk.

Quinnell, who is still only 23, said yesterday: "I've been reprimanded by Graham Henry in training this week and rightly so. I went over the top in the first half against Ireland. My lack of self-discipline let the team down. Graham sat me down and showed me the tape so there was no dodging the issue."

Quinnell, who wins his 10th cap on Saturday, is not having a happy time right now. He has never been a dirty player; hard but fair is a better way to look at the second-row prodigy, although a white card for Richmond against Leicester last weekend would seem to indicate the opposite.

In fact Quinnell's misdemeanours tend to get outsize treatment, which probably goes with the territory when you are an outsize man (he stands around 6ft 6in and weighs in at 18 stone) with outsize talent.

And there is no doubting Quinnell's credentials. If his pedigree does not shout out the obvious - he is the son of the former Wales and Lion No 8 and second row Derek Quinnell, the nephew of Barry John and brother of Scott - then listen to what Henry, the grizzled New Zealander, has to say.

"Craig has a major game on his hands against France," pronounced Henry. "He would have been disappointed with his discipline in the Ireland game, but he has the potential to become a top quality international lock."

That is the aim of the Swansea-born Quinnell, who put his recent disciplinary blips down to something a lot less sinister. "It was over eagerness," he explained. "The physical side has always been an important part of my game, but it's got to be channelled into big hits - legitimate tackles - and making ground with the ball in hand. That's my strength and that's what Graham Henry wants me to do. I am determined to do well for Wales."

That determination is borne out in the remarkable recovery, he has made from what looked like a serious injury just five weeks ago. Quinnell damaged tendons in a knee early in the second half of Richmond's Allied Dunbar Premiership match against Leicester in January.

The initial prognosis put Quinnell's earliest possible return at eight weeks, thus wiping out the bulk of Wales' Five Nations campaign as far as he was concerned. But the Quinnells are made of sterner stuff and the former Welsh Schools shot-putter set about rescuing his season and his knee in his own way.

Quinnell explained: "Steve Black, the Wales fitness adviser, thought I had a chance of a quicker recovery, so I booked into a Cardiff hotel for three weeks and started on a course of five hours of physiotherapy every day at a private hospital in Pentwyn on the outskirts of the city."

It worked. He had to remain a frustrated spectator for Wales' unsuccessful Five Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield, but within four weeks of sustaining the injury Quinnell had recovered enough to make it into the Wales team for that Ireland match. "I'm still well short of full fitness but I'm getting there," he said.

And considering his prospects at the outset of the Five Nations had looked so grim, it is perhaps not surprising that he did go over the top at Wembley. But that is the essence of the man.