Rugby Union: Wales reel as Quinnell joins Wigan: Principality's finest young player dents World Cup ambitions by taking up record pounds 400,000 offer

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The Independent Online
SCOTT QUINNELL delivered a shattering blow to Welsh rugby union yesterday when he joined Wigan rugby league club in a record deal for a British union forward - believed to be worth pounds 400,000 over four years.

He leaves Wales just five months after Scott Gibbs joined St Helens and at the start of the World Cup season.

Despite the size of the lure, the 22-year-old was adamant yesterday that money had not been his motivation. 'There is no point coming up here for the money if you don't think you're going to be happy,' he said. 'I've watched rugby league for a long time and it has always appealed to me. When I was made an offer I thought about it long and hard and decided I wanted to give it a go.

'A big part of my game is with the ball in my hands going forward and that aspect of the game in rugby league appeals to me.

'Anyone would love to play in the World Cup, but I was given this opportunity now and maybe I wouldn't have been given it again,' he said. Other clubs, including Leeds, are thought to have made offers, but Quinnell said: 'Wigan are the best side in the world and if you're going anywhere this is the place to go. I'm fortunate in being able to start at the top.'

His move is a grievous setback for Welsh rugby union, which was yesterday staring into an abyss as it came to the awful realisation of how little could be done to help players in whom it has invested hundreds of thousands of pounds resist six-figure offers. 'There is no way rugby union, even if it modifies the amateur regulations, will ever be able to compete with that,' Quinnell's uncle, Barry John, an all-time great Wales stand-off, said.

The gloom was palpable as Robert Norster, the Wales team manager, sought to come to terms with the loss of the forward around whom the Welsh pack would have been built for years to come. An international for less than a year, in nine matches Quinnell had shown himself to be one of his country's finest forward prospects since his own father, Derek, was in the Welsh pack in the Seventies. It is bitterly ironic that Quinnell senior is now a Wales selector.

'I can't pretend it's anything but a significant setback for us,' Norster lamented. 'Scott has huge ability and potential which will now be seen at the wrong end of the M6. We have a number of new initiatives in place to try and ward off this sort of thing but there is potential there to do far more. A lot of sports have found ways of rewarding players for their dedication and effort.'

The Wales players have a trust fund and also receive monies from the Welsh Rugby Union lottery but this is small beer compared with the champagne Quinnell can now afford. The last published figures, for 1992-93, show players who appeared in all five internationals that season made a princely pounds 2,000 each from off-field activities.

It is profoundly disturbing for Norster that every time Wales are successful - admittedly not too often of late - they suffer the depredations of rugby league. As many as half the 1988 Triple Crown winners went north and of last season's Five Nations champions already Gibbs and Quinnell have taken the money.

'Sad as we are at Scott's departure, it is the whole issue that has to be discussed,' the grieving manager said. 'Most of the Welsh players who have turned professional have not been overly qualified and these big amounts of money will always turn certain heads.'

The deal is believed to have been settled in Gloucester on Wednesday, but even so Quinnell was training as usual with Llanelli on Thursday night. 'We had nowhere near seen the best of him,' the Llanelli coach, Allan Lewis, said yesterday.

Now, the 6ft 4in, 17st Quinnell will have to serve his apprenticeship. Wigan have signed him as a replacement for Denis Betts, the Great Britain second row who leaves for the Auckland Warriors at the end of this season.

'The timing is just right, because he can spend the rest of this season learning the game,' the Wigan coach, Graeme West, said. That education could start as early as next Friday night, when Wigan have an Alliance team match at home to Wakefield Trinty, but it is likely in any event to begin within the next two weeks.

'It is difficult for a forward to change codes,' Quinnell said. 'It will take me a long time to break into the first-team squad.'

No one had tried to dissuade him, he said, and nor would it have made any difference if they had. 'The one thing that struck me and my fellow directors immediately with Scott was that he was his own man,' the Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, said. 'He was very positive and I was impressed. He looked single-minded - like he was going to have a real go. With that attitude and his unquestionable ability, he's got a great future.'

Wigan hold on

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