Spin-off of the money-go-round

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The Independent Online
There was speculation last week that I will be playing rugby in South Africa this summer - not for the British Lions but for Eastern Province. In fact, it was said that I could have been playing for the Province against the Lions. I am sorry to spoil a good story but on Thursday night I made a telephone call to decline their kind offer. As appealing as the prospect was, there was no way I could accept.

Who knows, I could still play in that game but only if the Lions called me up as a late replacement. Like many players who didn't make the squad, I still live in hope if not in expectation.

Eastern Province's offer, news of which appeared in the newspapers but not via me, involved playing for them throughout the South African season which runs from May to October. Apart from the fact that I work for the Welsh Rugby Union, am contracted to Cardiff for the next two years and have several commercial obligations, moving the entire family to Port Elizabeth for six months was hardly feasible. We didn't have to think about it for long, therefore, before politely turning it down.

If I was going anywhere this summer it would be to Australian Rugby League. I am one of a few players who are contracted to report for duty with them in July but at the moment the situation is unclear.

So many transfer stories in union are pie in the sky, as I know from my own experience.

My name has been linked with one or two English clubs one of which is Worcester. One of their officials rang to ask about my future availability. I explained my contractual position with Cardiff and the matter hasn't progressed any further than that. These informal conversations are commonplace in the game but it is when they find their way into the press that it gets complicated. Your present club is fully entitled to ask why you've been going behind their backs.

The trouble is that many players don't really know whether the person they are speaking to is a bona fide official, someone acting as a go-between or an agent trying to broker a deal for commission.

It is going to get worse as the season reaches a climax. Some clubs will start panicking about next season and others will get a sudden influx of money and want to start splashing it around. It doesn't help that the game has not yet found a proper financial level and a lot of money is being talked about for very average players, especially those still in the lower divisions. It is a free-for-all and potentially dangerous.

I'm lucky, in that my answer to any approach is straightforward. I haven't made up my mind about playing next season. My local evening newspaper announced my retirement from all rugby on the eve of the Wales-England match which was very kind of them. I'm not sure what they'll do when I turn out to play next season; they'll probably pretend I'm not there.

The position about my playing future is exactly the same as it was when I talked about it in this column weeks ago. I won't make a decision until this long and hard season is finally over and I've had a good rest. I feel genuinely that I have another two or three seasons in me but, as I have said before, retirement is a mental decision not a physical one. It is not whether you can play any more but whether you want to.

If the appetite remains strong, if the old ears prick up and the muscles don't start moaning at the thought of training, I will most certainly be back and, most probably, with Cardiff. If the motivation goes, so will I.

Whatever happens, my first loyalty is to Cardiff and their benefactor Peter Thomas. I will do nothing without discussing it with them first. Alex Evans has been back as rugby director for only a couple of weeks so it has hardly been a good time to discuss anything but vital matches to be won. For all that time I've been suffering from a dead leg which hadn't recovered enough for me to be selected for the team to play in the Swalec Cup against Llanelli on Sunday. I've been continuing treatment and may be fit enough to make the bench.

When it comes to appetite, I can definitely confirm that I'm looking forward to the climax of the season and helping Cardiff qualify for Europe. If we can also win the cup, it will round off the season in style. I have a strong fancy for Cardiff today. Llanelli have been the form team in Wales but my colleagues have been looking in good shape. Part of our problem this season, as in others, has been that we lose several players to the Welsh squad during the Five Nations and the continuity and confidence of the team is difficult to recover for the tough end-of-season games.

These uninterrupted weeks together have made a world of difference and the presence of Alex Evans has brought a fresh approach and a new impetus. Cardiff fans can start to get excited again.

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