Ruck and Maul: Feuding clans nothing new for Harrison before Welsh play Scottish

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The Independent Online

It took an acting role alongside Kevin Costner in a new TV mini-series to do it, but London Welsh's regular fourth official, Nigel Harrison, will have to miss his club's first league meeting with London Scottish in 22 years next Saturday, while he is filming with the Hollywood star in Romania.

The Hatfields and McCoys is a movie about feuding clans in 19th-century West Virginia and Kentucky, and the 53-year-old Harrison – who normally spends his Saturdays keeping an eye on substitutions and the sin-bin – will be playing a Pinkerton's detective. The capital's Welsh and Scottish rugby clans are happy to have been reunited in The Championship, having not met in the league since a Division Three fixture on 11 November 1989.

Harrison has worked with Marlon Brando, Helen Mirren, Michael Caine, Michael Gambon, Catherine Zeta-Jones and even Cesc Fabregas, playing the then Arsenal footballer's agent in an advertisement – all the while fitting in his playing and now officiating.

"The Royal Shakespeare Company were about to open in Antony and Cleopatra," Harrison recalled, "when I played for Stratford RFC in the afternoon and broke my arm. I had to say I fell down the stairs in my flat but I don't think they believed me for a second. The plaster had to be disguised in Roman leather."

Is Varsity Match out of touch?

Oxford and Cambridge are going back to the future by appointing the former captains Joe Roff and Ross Blake as assistant referees for the Nomura Varsity Match next month.

For years the Twickenham touchlines were prowled by blazer-wearing touch judges, usually the previous year's captains. Eddie Butler, commentating for the BBC these days, did duty with the flag in 1979 and described his Cambridge Blue blazer as being of "peppermint phosphorescence".

Thus in more than plain view, the touch judges acquired a dubious reputation. One flag-holder allowed a Light Blue successor on the wing to run in a try when Oxford observed the fellow more or less trampling on the spectators in the front row of the stand.

The RFU introduced neutral touch judges in 1997 but the organisers are keen to inject interest back into the annual fixture, whose attendance has been hovering around the 30,000 mark.

Another tradition is this Wednesday's Major Stanley's XV fixture, though Oxford's RFU council member, Stephen Pearson, will miss it to help interview candidates for Twickenham's new chief executive. Cambridge's Ian Metcalfe is already a leading light on the RFU board of directors.

Manu's mouthguard of honour

The makers of mouthguards worn by brothers Alesana and Manu Tuilagi in the Rugby World Cup – at the cost of a £5,000 fine to each for displaying unauthorised brands – swore blind it was not ambush marketing. They have, however, signed the younger Tuilagi as an "ambassador" for the next four years.

Announcing the deal with Tuilagi – last seen at the World Cup leaping off a ferry and into Auckland harbour – the company Opro said they were "delighted to have Manu on board".

Three Welshmen high and dry

You may recall Sam Warburton in these pages before the World Cup revealing the workings of the Wales squad's "dry board". The point was never to be completely abstemious.

Having chipped £20 each into a kitty, players were allowed drinks at different times – a glass of wine with the wife or a set number of beers. But who won the £900 prize?

A WRU source whispered only that at least three players will be paid out before the Australia match on 3 December, based on an "honesty call". The "board" will start again in the new year when the squad train in Poland.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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