David Flatman: Cold shoulder is harsh after the hard shoulder

Wales have enough problems before facing France without ostracising their motorway golf-cart driver
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Wales versus France was meant to be the clash of the titans, the Cup final played a few weeks early, the match that had all fans, even neutrals, sat in their favourite armchairs early in anticipation. Thing is, Wales went and lost in week one. How very anti-social of them. What also detracts from the magnitude of the occasion is that the Welsh will be without so many first-choice players; Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Williams and Matthew Rees will all be watching from the stands.

It might be a good idea for the Welsh to get their excuses in now as France seem – and we never count our chickens with them – to have clicked. They managed to make the Springbok-beating Irish look pedestrian and old school, and finished the game looking every bit as immaculate and nicely preened as they were when they got off the team bus.

Perhaps the only relief for Wales – besides the humongous bonus that is the non-selection of Sébastian Chabal, always good news for the opposition – is that Andy Powell has taken everybody's focus away from the main event. His antics after hours – and, presumably, after a few lagers – in a golf cart on the hard shoulder of the M4 have not only resulted in his prompt expulsion from the squad but also in a huge amount of attention. The reactions have been very interesting; some chastising him for his obvious loutishness, others sticking to the facts and leaving us to berate him from our positions of power (that favourite armchair again).

All of this took me back a few years. It was during England's tour of South Africa in 2000 that I, along with two bastions of fair play – Danny Grewcock and Julian White – were, after an eventful night on the tiles, accused of commandeering a hotel golf buggy and writing the thing off. Incidentally we didn't do it (I always suspected Tindall) but the rumours and snap judgements were thrown around with suspicious levels of enthusiasm (thou doth protest too much?) and the perpetrator chose never to step forward.

But the manner in which it was handled was, in my view, as it should be; Clive Woodward called us – by then christened "The Jo'burg Three" – into his room and over a nice pot of Earl Grey asked us if we were guilty. "No, mate," we said in chorus. "Fine," he said, "I believe you. How was last night then? Good craic?" He always said if it didn't cost us a Test match, it wasn't important. After the repairs to the buggy, and with the pound being particularly strong at that time, it had cost us a lot less than that.

Which is why I find Powell's dropping so surprising. The fact that he was reportedly drunk at the wheel of a vehicle makes him foolish. The fact that the police caught him exacerbates the issue by making it public. But it ought to be handled with a bit less aggression and a bit more thought.

Rugby is a game of togetherness, cohesion and loyalty. These are the very foundations on which the game has always been built. Had Bill Beaumont or Dean Richards been nicked and brought home by the police after acting up on the town, would they have been hung out to dry as readily as Powell? No chance. They would have been labelled heroes and their tales would have been stitched directly into the game's folklore to be recounted for generations to come.

I am in no way suggesting Powell ought to be let off with a wink and a nudge but I am absolutely suggesting that, were he supported and apologetic in public, with the necessary rollockings and legal proceedings – if any – kept strictly private, he would feel forever loyal. Instead, he has been chucked out in the cold because he got drunk and made a bad decision.

Some talk of the professional game being a robotic, sullied version of the amateur one, but is that really all to do with body fat and banknotes? I doubt it. Are we in danger of turning our beloved sport into something dehumanised and remote? I hope not, because we are still just blokes and that, surely, is one of rugby's biggest attractions. Elite sport it may be, and behave we must, but we should never forget that it's the characters who make our game great.

Loud Barnes bridges gap but what a pass to Olly

That was a tougher win for our Bath side over Worcester yesterday than the 37-13 scoreline might suggest. The game didn't throw up any surprises. With Worcester you know what you are going to get, a very physical and abrasive hour and a half of rugby. I had about 65 minutes' worth before David Barnes's screaming from the bench got too much and he had to come on. Well, he'd just seen me and our fellow prop Davey Wilson each having a run in the build-up to Michael Claassens scoring in the corner. He was entitled to get agitated about that.

So after the defeat of London Irish last week, some might say it's a corner turned but I'll reserve judgement for a couple of months. What I was pleased with is that we did what we said we were going to do, which was take our opportunities. Now, every sports team in the world says that, of course, but even when we have been on the wrong end of results our coaches have said to keep on going for it.

Olly Barkley came on to begin his comeback and he did really well, replacing Butch James, who has also returned to fitness recently. It is great to see them involved, because when you are a club which sticks to the salary cap you cannot afford for top guys to be missing. Olly shouted at me for giving him the ball when he'd said "no, no, no" but, hey, it was an immaculate dive pass. I'm sticking to my story that I heard him say "go, go, go".