Rugby union: Wellington move gives Yates hope

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THOSE WHO thought Kevin Yates might travel to the ends of the earth to escape the stigma of the London Scottish ear-biting scandal got their timing badly wrong. The Bath and England prop will indeed further his tarnished career in New Zealand's North Island rather than England's West Country, but no one could fairly accuse him of dodging the consequences of his recent past; only now, after spending a season in front of the Premiership public and soaking up whatever punishment they had to throw at him, has Yates decided to head for the airport and a welcome touch of southern hemisphere anonymity.

Not that he will be anonymous for long. The 26-year-old loose head has agreed a National Provincial Championship deal with Wellington, one of the strongest and best supported outfits in All Black territory. If all goes well, Yates hopes to land a Super 12 contract with the Wellington Hurricanes. "That would be superb," he said yesterday. "At the moment, though, I simply want to play some rugby and get back to the level at which I know I can perform."

That will be anything but a straightforward task. Banned for six months for biting Simon Fenn, the London Scottish flanker, during a brutish cup tie at the Recreation Ground in January of last year - the accused has always protested his innocence - Yates was a shadow of his former self during Bath's recently concluded Premiership campaign. Shorn of his natural aggression and nowhere near as dynamic as in the pre-Fenn days, he failed to threaten Dave Hilton's position as first-choice loose head.

"It's been an up-and-down sort of season," he admitted. "The media attention wasn't too bad - quite honestly, it was less than I expected. But for one reason or another, I need to play some good standard rugby right now. Hopefully, I'll pull on a Bath shirt again; I'm in negotiations about my future at the club. Leaving will be a wrench because my family and friends are all in the Bath area, but the world isn't too big a place these days and I have some good years left in me."

Even now, the hangover from the Fenn affair continues to give Yates the odd headache: earlier this year, the London Scottish chairman Tony Tiarks called for a worldwide ban on the prop after a financial wrangle over the legal bill resulting from the ear-biting case. But nothing will stop Yates attempting to resurrect his career in the hardest rugby school of them all. During the course of a summer in the Land of the Long White Cloud, a much blacker cloud may finally drift away.

Richmond, already strapped for cash, look as though they will soon be strapped for players too. Craig Quinnell yesterday completed his expected return to Wales by joining Cardiff, while his fellow Welsh international Barry Williams surfaced at Bristol. Spencer Brown, capped on the right wing by England last summer, will also join Bristol unless the Londoners can reassure him as to their Premiership future.

Meanwhile, Wales called up Matthew Watkins, an uncapped centre from Newport, for their forthcoming tour of Argentina. The 20-year-old rookie replaces Scott Gibbs, who withdrew on Monday with a broken hand.