Global warning to the amateur bunglers

Dennis Gethin and the Right Hon Sir Tasker Watkins VC, respectively the secretary and the president of the Welsh Rugby Union, will compare notes today and prepare a report on the Brett Sinkinson affair for the International Rugby Board. Other than the fact that Sinkinson is about as Welsh as the Dalai Lama and so had no right to play for Wales, there is strong evidence to suggest that he is an innocent abroad and not a kiwi fruit farmer from New Zealand with Machiavellian tendencies.

In the near hysterical fallout following the revelation that one of Sinkinson's grandparents came not from the Principality but Oldham (an easy mistake to make), he, Graham Henry, the WRU and possibly the Welsh Assembly have been accused of almost everything including perfidy.

This all started when a deep throat north of the border, fed up with criticism of the Kilted Kiwis, let it be known that one or two of the Tasman Taffs were not eligible on any grounds. A phone call to New Zealand's version of Somerset House revealed that Sinkinson, and possibly Shane Howarth, did not qualify through ancestry.

The question is did Sinkinson know this? When he joined Neath a couple of seasons ago he was registered as an overseas player, not as an honorary Welshman. Sinkinson, who holds a British passport, was under the impression that one of his grandparents came from Wales, but he was so openly vague on the subject that he wasn't sure whether it was Carmarthen or Caernarvon. How many people know exactly where their grandparents were born?

In any case in the professional climate, amateurism, at least on the question of eligibility, was the order of the day. Although the Scottish Rugby Union say they require a copy of a birth certificate as proof that a player has a hereditary right to play for Scotland, no such documentary evidence is required by the International Board. They passed the buck to the individual unions and in most cases a wink was as good as a nod.

Ten years ago, long before it became fashionable for the Celts - with a paltry playing base compared to England - to recruit overseas talent, Ireland fell upon a player by the name of Brian Smith. He was an Australian at Oxford University. Ireland needed a stand-off and Smith won nine caps before returning to Australia.

More recently Kevin Putt, one of a host of players from the southern hemisphere who represent London Irish, was about to be tapped up by Ireland on the grounds that he was an Irish passport holder when, more by accident than design, they discovered he did not fulfil any of the criteria forselection.

Incidentally, there are doubts over the elegibility of Putt's partner at London Irish, Stephen Bachop, when he played for Samoa in the World Cup last year. A former All Black whose career with New Zealand had run its course, Bachop represented Samoa because it was thought a grandmother came from there. As it turns out it was a great grandmother and that doesn't count. As for Stephen's brother Graeme, he has played for Japan and it seems unlikely he is descended from the Land of the Rising Sun. Before him, Ian Williams played on the wing for Australia and Japan. And so on.

When Kevin Bowring, Henry's predecessor, coached Wales, he chose several players who were not Welsh. One of them was the Englishman Rupert Moon - recalled by the Welsh for yesterday's match with Scotland - who had to serve a residency qualification of six years.

"That's how stringent the WRU were in those days," Bowring said. "But then the IB, who had hardly any laws on eligibility, reduced the residency requirement across the board to three years. Now the main claim is birthright but for years the subject has been cloudy throughout the world."

As it happens Moon's recall in place of Robert Howley, the deposed captain, persuaded his brother Richard Moon, a member of the RFU general committee, to change his plans yesterday. Instead of going to Rome to watch England play Italy, Richard chose to watch his brother play against the Scots at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which only goes to prove that blood is thicker than water.

"What has happened to Sinkinson and Howarth is very sad," Bowring added: "They've played their hearts out for Wales and I'm sure they didn't do it for the money. It was the chance to play international rugby."

And last season, when they were playing it rather well and Wales were enjoying an excellent run, Henry was hailed as the Great Redeemer. Now the bread of heaven is rationed and the winner from Auckland is under a lot of pressure. "I never thought this would happen," he said. "It's unbelievable. All I can say is that it's a new experience."

So where did Sinkinson's supposed Welsh connection come from? "I haven't got a clue," Henry said. "The WRU have asked me not to say anything so I'm in no position to comment. I'm a little bitirritated by events but I suppose it's part of the deal." Henry said that Sinkinson and Howarth were "devastated". So is Henry.

Did Sinkinson or Henry or both pull a fast one? "There's no evidence of anything sinister," Gethin said. "If mistakes were made it looks as if they were made in good faith. With hindsight, if there were question marks over X, Y and Z we should have insisted on documentary evidence. The rules on eligibility are clear but there's nothing there on how to enforce or substantiate claims."

Even if there were, it would not be the responsibility of the coach. Henry has never made a secret of his recruitment policy, from luring Jason Jones-Hughes from Australia to the land of his father, to flirting with Liam Botham, son of an English hero, to picking the New Zealander Matthew Cardey whose grandmother came from Nantyglo.

"My job is to pick the strongest available team and I won't let colour, creed or nationality stand in the way," Henry has said. Hardly the words of somebody dealing in subterfuge.

Meanwhile England were quick to declare that they have been "whiter than white". Aside from the fact that Clive Woodward took the Springbok Joel Stransky out to lunch last season when England looked as if they needed a stand-off, there is the little matter of Prince Obolensky, the forerunner in the whole sorry story of defection. When the noble Prince lit up Twickenham against the All Blacks in 1936 he was, technically, a Russian citizen. Let he who is without kin cast the first stone.

When the Welsh Rugby Union present the report of their inquiry to the International Rugby Board on Tuesday, Stephen Baines, chief executive of the IRB, will be in a position to recommend changes to the members almost immediately.

The board have their annual meeting at their headquarters in Dublin this month and are bound to tighten up the whole procedure on eligibility. We can exclusively reveal that if Baines gives Dennis Gethin, the secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union, a particularly hard time, it will come as a surprise.

Both administrators are former pupils of Neath Grammar School (in the interests of objectivity I should declare that it is also my alma mater) and Baines' mother lives opposite the Gnoll, the ground where Neath, and Sinkinson, play their rugby. Unlike the unfortunate Brett, Baines and Gethin were born in Neath, bred in Neath and will be buried underneath.

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