Loss of fitness guru caps black days for the Welsh

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The Independent Online

Wales could be forgiven for any paranoia they may feel, because it really is beginning to look as if the whole rugby world is against them.

On top of the scandal of their non-Welsh players comes a suggestion of alleged irregularity in the collection of ticket money from last year's World Cup and a failure to meet a deadline for accounts to be submitted to Rugby World Cup Ltd.

Then late yesterday came news that the lock Craig Quinnell has a back injury and could be out for the rest of the season, and hot on the heels of that came the surprise announcement that Wales' fitness adviser and team motivator, Steve Black, had resigned.

Black's methods had been criticised by the likes of Jeremy Guscott, while Bristol's coach, Bob Dwyer, called the Quinnell brothers, Scott and Craig, fat. But Black's departure will be seen as a major blow to the Wales coach, Graham Henry.

At least a report that England are considering seeking compensation from Wales after losing at Wembley to a team containing two ineligible players, Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson, has been dismissed as rubbish by the Rugby Football Union. Just as well - life was beginning to look rather bleak for the Principality.

The World Cup charge is potentially the most serious. A source at the auditors for the International Rugby Board was reported in a Sunday newspaper as saying that while around £60m was expected in ticket receipts, the WRU have said they will deliver £43m. The alleged shortfall of £17m remains a mystery, especially as other sources in the WRU claim that only £3m is unaccounted for. Last night the WRU said it expected a "satisfactory outcome sooner rather than later".

Wales took immediate action when doubts were first cast over the eligibility of the New Zealanders Howarth and Sinkinson by dropping the pair from the squad until the matter has been investigated by the WRU and IRB. A report by the WRU is expected to reach the IRB early next week.

But the ripples of the eligibility scandal have spread beyond Wales. Questions have been raised about the eligibility of Scotland's Peter Walton and Dave Hilton, but the SRU has one of the most stringent sets of rules for foreign players wishing to qualify.

Hilton vowed to produce a birth certificate confirming a Scottish grandfather. It is trickier for Walton, who is out for the rest of the season with a neck injury. He qualified through the Scottish Exiles system, having been educated in Edinburgh. Both players entered the Scottish system before the game went professional in 1995.

In the face of all this, humour was still present in Cardiff at the weekend. One joke circulating was that the Welsh squad had to line up on the pitch at 2pm for the 4pm kick-off, to allow the band time to play all the national anthems.

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