Andy Powell: Nowhere to hide, no hard shoulder to cry on

Powell has moved on from the infamous golf-buggy incident and is flying at Wasps.

Andy Powell knew he would be treading the green, green grass of home this afternoon, and though the venue for Wasps' Heineken Cup match has changed from Newport Gwent Dragons' Rodney Parade to the Cardiff City Stadium, the sentiment is the same.

The much-travelled Welsh No 8 is happy to visit when playing for his London employers, or when he is needed by his country, and one day he will settle down in his Brecon birthplace. Otherwise there is no going back. "I'll start talking with Wasps over Christmas," says Powell. "I'd like to see out my rugby-playing career here."

Knowing the history of this 29-year-old Wasp who trains in Acton, plays in High Wycombe and lives in Westminster, where a taxi driver might think Rodney Parade is the Dragons' star player, he is, it is fair to say, very Welsh. He is, by turns, wistful, warm, impulsive, barmy. Twp, they'd say, in Welsh. In London, maybe, lively or lairy.

Just the sort of bloke, in short, who would get "the munchies" in the early hours of a Sunday morning after a win over Scotland, lurch out of the team hotel with a mate and jump in a golf buggy to set off to the nearest petrol station. Which is what Powell did last February, in one of the wackier and most notorious cases of taking and driving away.

Going along a dark country road followed by the hard shoulder of the M4 – at buggy pace, time enough surely to deduce it was a daft idea – he arrived at the garage with South Wales Police's finest for company. Magistrates banned him from driving for 15 months and fined him £1,000. Dropped from the Wales squad, he took it hard and saw out his final days with the Cardiff Blues – though neither side will elaborate in public – in mutual aggravation.

Yet here Powell is, speaking positively of "playing with a smile on my face again" at a club where a legendary No 8, Lawrence Dallaglio, pulls a few strings and slackers are not welcome. Powell himself quotes the word "bouncebackability". He has needed it in spades. His career began with a rush at Newport, in the days before the regional Dragons. In his breakthrough season, 2001-02, Newport finished second in the Welsh-Scottish League. The Rugby Annual for Wales described him as "one of the most promising men on the Welsh scene".

The newspapers went for "the new Scott Quinnell". Powell fidgets and bridles at this, running his fingers through blond hair that is cut sensibly short now but has variously been an aggressive close-crop or a lavish mullet. "That was the journalists," he says. "You're not a Scott Quinnell.I'm Andy Powell, that's the way Iplay. Keep to what you're good at. Everybody's an individual."

He was in an Under-21 age group with Gavin Henson, Ryan Jones and Mike Phillips. Unlike Henson, who was capped almost immediately, Powell got no further than the A team. Newport changed coaches and lost their first eight matches the followingseason. He departed for four months in France with Béziers and five months with Leicester – for his single first-team appearance in December 2003 he shared the bench with Martin Johnson – followed by a few months of no rugby and a stint with Llanelli Scarlets. In 2005 he joined the Blues and suffered two years of injuries.

"Sometimes I sit at night and think about Béziers: 'Bloody hell, what was I doing over there?' But maybe if I hadn't done those things, I wouldn't be here now. I wouldn't have played for the Lions [on their 2009 tour], for the Barbarians, for Wales. I might have finished rugby five years ago."

His rescuer was Warren Gatland, Wales's current head coach, who gave Powell his Test debut, aged 27, in 2008. Despite the buggy incident, and another alcoholic escapade a year earlier, Gatland forgave Powell and he played again this autumn.

Wasps, who beat Glasgow and earned a valuable bonus point in Toulouse in the Heineken Cup, are using Powell in his "favourite position" of No 8. Physically very dynamic, he explodes off scrums and rucks and lets team-mates do the link play. Off the field, he is the go-to man for banter.

"In rugby generally there's a few pranks," he says. "It was awkward after the [buggy] incident, and thinking I'm not going to play for Wales again, you start thinking the wrong things. You let everything come down on your shoulders. I didn't kill anybody and that's the way you've got to look at it, that's the positive side."

At which point he stands up, to more than his 6ft 4in on tiptoes, pulls down his tracksuit bottoms – and removes the ice pack that was soothing a dead leg. Phew.

Rugby loves its boisterous characters. The 1974 Lions have dined out for decades on tales of setting hotels on fire. The 2009 tourists had free rein on nights off, and were regarded as a better, more productive bunch because of it. "Good banter keeps the group tight, that's the way it should be," he says. "I played in some teams where the banter's not so brilliant, and you'd go home at night and think, oh no, another four days of training."

He and his mother are renovating her Victorian house in Breconwith a view to running a bed-and-breakfast. "Built in 1842, it was," he says. "A nice old place with fishing rights running through. I can fly-fish but I prefer a bit of spinning or worming, you can chill out on the bank then. London's nice but the countryside I'm from is nice. I'll go back eventually when I'm settling down." And this brings a broad smile. "That's going to be a while, probably."

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent