Rugby Union: Wales miss out on cross-code Sullivan

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The Independent Online
FIRST THE good news. Anthony Sullivan, the record-breaking Super League wing from St Helens, is well on the way to finalising a switch to the 15-man code with Cardiff this winter. And the bad news? His return to the land of his father, the great Clive Sullivan, will be of no conceivable use to Graham Henry, the new Wales coach. As Welsh rugby folk are often heard to mutter these days, it never rains but it hoses down.

Eric Hughes, the St Helens football manager, made it abundantly clear yesterday that Sullivan would be expected back in 13-man mode in good time for this season's Challenge Cup campaign, which begins in February. That would rule the 29-year-old Great Britain international out of union's Five Nations' Championship, which gets under way at around the same time, and undermine whatever tentative plan Henry had formed to play him in next year's World Cup.

Given that Iestyn Harris, the astonishingly versatile million-pound property from Leeds, is tied hand, foot and finger to his sporting career in Yorkshire, the Welsh Rugby Union hierarchy may well find themselves denied access to either of their preferred league reinforcements. Rather like England, who briefly flirted with the idea of transforming Gary Connolly into a Twickenham hero, Wales are finding the logistics of cross-code co-existence too complicated for words.

Henry's most pressing personnel problems surround the tight five of the scrum, but a coach of his stature would die for the chance to run Harris at full-back and Sullivan on the left wing. Ieuan Evans' retirement from international rugby has left the Welsh without a natural wide finisher - Gareth Thomas and Dafydd James are not quite quick enough while Gareth Wyatt is worryingly short of muscle - and the No 15 shirt has not been filled with complete confidence since Paul Thorburn bowed out seven years ago.

"We understand Anthony's wanting to go to Cardiff, where his father started his own career, and will listen sympathetically to his request," said Hughes, adding that as a specialist left wing, Sullivan would find it easier than most to adapt to the unique positional demands of the 15-man game. "But we would insist on his not missing any games for Saints. If he does agree a move to Cardiff, we would like him to extend his contract with us."

Gareth Davies, the Cardiff chief executive, confirmed his club's interest in Sullivan's services, which were only intensified by the player's landmark achievement in putting five tries, a Super League record, past London Broncos last Friday night. "He's very keen to give union a crack and we'd certainly like to think he will be playing here at some stage," Davies said. "He is a consummate professional and because of that professionalism and the great relationship he has with his club, St Helens are happy to consider the union option."

Few Welsh Rugby Union committee men will be remotely amused by the obvious irony surrounding Cardiff's impending coup. The Arms Park club's relationship with their governing body has collapsed to such a degree that they are not participating in any officially sanctioned competitions and the sight of Sullivan playing in a series of rebel games against the leading English clubs could be one insult too many for the purple-faced traditionalists.

The Scots, meanwhile, are fast piecing together a team of spectacular talent. Unfortunately for them, it is a coaching team rather than a playing XV. John Rutherford, for many people's money the most accomplished European outside-half of his generation, will form one third of a three-man support unit for Jim Telfer, the head coach.

Rutherford, capped 42 times between 1979 and 1987, is joined by Ian McGeechan, the three-time Lions coach and current director of rugby at Northampton, and Hugh Campbell, who steps up from forward duties with Scotland A. Further down the line, there are appointments for David Leslie, the former international flanker, and Richie Dixon, who was deposed as national coach last January. They take over the Under-21s and Under-19s respectively.

The winger Jason Little scored a record-equalling four tries in the Wallabies' 74-0 defeat of Tonga during the second round of the Pacific World Cup qualifying tournament. The 12-try win virtually guarantees Australia will finish top of the four-nation Pacific tournament and qualify for the World Cup's Pool E based in Ireland.