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The former Wales international who is now one of the most powerful men in world rugby

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Having risen to one of the top jobs in world rugby, Andy Marinos is someone who has really scaled the heights of the game.

But, talk to him about his rugby life, and you get the clear sense he takes just as much pride in the days when he played for the land of his grandfather.

It’s just over 20 years now since he arrived in Wales from South Africa, having exchanged views of Table Mountain for ones of the Transporter Bridge by signing for Newport.

He went on to win eight caps in the red jersey of his adopted country, who he qualified for through his maternal grandparents.

After hanging up his boots, he moved straight into the administrative side of the game with the Dragons and has continued on a steep upward curve along that graph.

Today, he is chief executive of SANZAAR, the body which oversees Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship in the southern hemisphere.

As such he is one of the most influential and powerful men in the world game, someone with a lot on his plate, especially with the sport going through such a challenging time due to the coronavirus crisis.

Yet he made time in his busy schedule to talk to me from his home near Sydney, via the wonders of Zoom, and what I found was a man who has the fondest memories of his time in Wales.

Marinos was born in Harare, with his family emigrating to South Africa when he was 10 after independence was declared in Zimbabwe.

From then on, his home was Durban, but throughout his childhood he was very much aware of his Welsh roots.

“My grandparents on my mother’s side were from Anglesey, in north Wales,” he explains.

“They were called William and Edith Wynne. They had moved over to South Africa in the 1940s.

“I was particularly close to that side of our family.

“My grandfather, a pharmacist, was from west Wales originally and he was a very proud Welshman.

“Welsh was very much his mother tongue and he took every opportunity to use it, not that we could understand a word he was saying half the time!

“I just remember it very clearly.

“I grew up hearing Welsh being spoken to us more than I heard English, to be honest.”

Andy Marinos
Andy Marinos was proud to play for Wales, the land of his grandparents

The young Marinos began to make his mark in rugby as a centre and spent four years with the Sharks from 1991 to 1995, prior to a two year spell in rugby league in Australia with the Sydney Bulldogs.

He returned to Union and South Africa to play for the Stormers in Cape Town, until his life took a seismic shift in 1999 when he made the move to Wales.

“It all came via an approach from Graham Henry and the national set-up,” he said.

“They knew I had Welsh ancestry.

“To be honest, I’m not too sure how they knew. I must have had a really good agent representing me at the time!

“I had always spoken quite a lot about my heritage growing up and certainly in interviews as I started playing rugby.

“I think there was a very clear understanding that I had Welsh roots.

“Maybe it was picking up from those articles and comments I had made in the past that the link was made.

“Anyway, I met up with the WRU and they offered me a chance to join Newport and put myself in line to play for Wales through my ancestry.

“Tony Brown had started investing into Newport and the WRU pushed me in that direction.”

With the offer on the table, Marinos, who was working in investment banking at the time, was faced with one of the biggest choices of his life.

“It was a tough decision at the time,” he admits.

“I’d had a particularly successful season with the Stormers. We had done really well.

“I was in the wider Springbok training group at the time when the approach came.

“But I took a slightly different approach to my rugby career.

“As much as I loved it and really enjoyed what the game had given me, I saw it as a huge opportunity for me to grow and develop as a person.

“It was a chance to go and experience another culture, another country that resonated.

“It was a lot easier given my close links to my grandfather.

“It was a wonderful occasion to go and walk in the footsteps where he had been.

“The opportunity to play international rugby was a very big draw card for me and my wife was very supportive of that.”

So with the decision made, the then 26-year-old Marinos headed for Wales.

“The first time I drove over the Severn Bridge into Newport, the scenery was very, very diferent to driving down the M1 into Cape Town and having Table Mountain as the backdrop,” he recalls.

“But I must say from the very first day that I got there, the warmth and the friendliness of the people in Wales really resonated with me.

“Everyone was very engaging. The whole introduction was very warm and very friendly. The players, Newport and the WRU were very open and welcoming.”

Before he had even made his debut for the Black & Ambers, Marinos was fast-tracked into Henry’s Wales training squad in preparation for the 1999 World Cup, which was to be held on home soil.

“Ironically the first time we assembled as a squad was up in north Wales,” he said.

“So it was almost like my first pilgrimage was back into the land of my grandfather.”

He played in the non-cap warm-up game against the USA at the Principality Stadium, but then when the final squad for the World Cup was named, he wasn’t included.

“Jason Jones-Hughes, who the WRU had fought so hard to get, became eligible and I had to step aside because he had been assured a place in the World Cup squad if his eligibility came through,” he said.

“So I missed out.”

Andy Marinos, with Percy Montgomery alongside him, celebrates scoring a try for Newport at Rodney Parade

All his attention was then focused on Newport and he made his debut against Neath that September. He acknowledges Welsh club rugby took a bit of getting used to.

“I found the game a hell of a lot slower,” he said.

“That’s just largely due to the conditions.

“You go up to Ebbw Vale, Pontypool, Pontypridd or some of those valley towns, the surfaces weren’t as firm under foot as what I’d been used to in South Africa and across Australasia.

“So the pace of the game was certainly a lot slower, but there was a lot more physicality and intensity in the close exchanges. I found that quite an adjustment.

“My first six to eight months, I had more facial stitches than I had in ten years of playing rugby prior to that.

“The blokes certainly belted me and gave me a very warm introduction to Welsh rugby.

“But, like anything, you quickly adapt.”

After his initial involvement with Wales, the strong-running Marinos then had to wait some three years for his first cap, not that he has any issues on that front.

“I fully respected the fact I was doing my apprenticeship again,” he said.

“Although I’d had ten years of professional rugby under my belt, I was new into Welsh rugby.

“I had to prove myself and earn the right to get the honour of wearing that red jersey.

“It was at a time when we had Mark Taylor, Scott Gibbs, Allan Bateman, Dafydd James and Gareth Thomas. There was a real richness of talent in the centre.

“But the desire to play for Wales never waned. It was always a very central focus of mine. It just took time.

“I was prepared and willing to ride that out because I had committed the rest of my playing future to Wales.”

Eventually the call came and he made his debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in February 2002, as a replacement for Iestyn Harris, in a game that ended in a heavy 52-10 defeat.

“A little note about that, I was actually the 999th Welsh cap,” he said.

“There was a funny caption I remember seeing in the press after the game. It said Henry dialled 999, but no-one answered.”

That heavy loss proved to be the end of the road for Henry, who resigned a couple of days later. Steve Hansen took the helm and his first match in charge, at home to France, brought Marinos’ first start.

“That is the game that really stands out for me,” he says.

“Running out in front of a packed house at the Millennium Stadium, the emotion I had, the tears were running down my eyes, singing that anthem.

“That will always stand out as being the pinnacle of my career.”

I wonder whether his mind had wandered to what his grandad would have thought?

“Oh absolutely and very much so,” he said.

“The Welsh dragon had been a very synonymous flag in our house growing up. It was never far away.

Andy Marinos crosses for a try in Wales’ victory over Italy in the 2002 Six Nations

“My mum comes from a typical big Welsh family. There’s eight of them, with her brothers and sisters.

“I know my relatives back in South Africa and my aunts over in the UK were all celebrating at the same time, with me finally having realised that dream of playing for the country my grandfather had brought alive to me in my former years.”

With the man who had brought Marinos over, Henry, having left, fellow Kiwi Hansen was to be his coach for the remainder of his Test career.

“They had very contrasting styles,” he said.

“Graham was sort of a wise old owl.

“Steve’s style was very authoritarian and he very quickly wanted to change behaviours and attitudes.

“His approach was probably a little bit more direct and a lot more forceful to what we had experienced with Graham.

“But I think it was a natural evolution. Graham had built the confidence in the group that they could compete and then Steve came in and really reinforced the never say die attitude and had to change behaviours and disciplines.”

Marinos went on the 2002 summer tour of his homeland South Africa, starting both Tests, with his final cap coming against Romania in Wrexham the following year.

“My biggest regrets are that I missed out on the 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cup.

“But you have just got to appreciate what you were given.”

After 97 appearances for Newport and 26 for the newly formed Dragons, Marinos called it a day at the end of the first season of regional rugby and moved into the role of chief executive at Rodney Parade.

Andy Marinos on his final appearance for Wales against Romania in August 2003

“The business of sport and the business of rugby had always been something that had interested me,” he explained.

“So the transition from playing – as I call it from boots to suits – was always going to be inevitable.

“The opportunity I had with the Dragons and Newport and getting onto the WRU board and working under David Moffett was fantastic.

“I would have loved to have a few more years in Wales because I think it was a very exciting period for Welsh rugby from 1998 through to when Mike Ruddock took over and they won the Six Nations.

“But I had a pretty audacious approach from South African rugby to go back and take over as director of rugby.

“It was a very, very hard decision because my wife and our three kids at the time were very settled and happy in Wales.

“But, from a career point of view, it was an important step to get more experience and hopefully set me up for the future.”

Moving home in 2005, Marinos went on to hold a series of high-ranking roles in South African rugby, before becoming Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney-based SANZAAR at the beginning of 2016.

“When I look back on it, I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to experience rugby in both hemispheres,” he said.

“My rugby career was a journey and a series of life experiences that hopefully would set me up as a more holistic person for the future.

“Being in the financial game, I think I realised pretty early that although rugby was professional, it was never going to set you up for the rest of your life.

“There was always going to have to be life after playing.”

Home for Marinos now is Cronulla, some 30 kms south of Sydney, with the family having grown over the years to six children, with one of his sons named Rhyddian in a nod to those Welsh roots.

At present, his focus is very much the challenge facing rugby from the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a very tough period and quite sobering,” said the 47-year-old.

“But out of adversity comes great opportunity.

“I am very much a glass half-full not half-empty kind of guy.

“I look at this as a wonderful opportunity for the global game to re-set, re-evaluate and reorganise how we do things, particularly around the global season.

“We need to engage in a more meaningful way between the two hemispheres.

“When it comes to pulling together and getting through this, it’s not Union by Union, it’s all of rugby together.

“If we stay true to the values of the game, we can come out the other side with a much better structure that can take us forward.

“I still enjoy being part of rugby. I really do love it and I want to stay involved and be part of the change.”

It’s been some journey for Marinos in the sport he loves and on it goes.



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Six Nations Rugby

In Pictures: The greatest rugby XV of all-time picked by fans

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REVEALED: The greatest ever XV in the history of rugby… and there’s no room for Carter, O’Connell and Parisse.

15. Serge Blanco (France) 

The French icon’s international career with France saw the flamboyant fullback perform various outlandish levels of skill while winning Five Nation Grand Slams in 1981 and 1987 as well as four further titles.

Blanco was a threat from everywhere on the field and often took risks that we very rarely see nowadays. In total, he won 93 caps for France during his 11-year international career between 1980 and 1991, which was a record when he retired.

He also scored an imposing 233 points and is a true legend of the sport.

Did you know: Images of Blanco’s on-field heroics can always be viewed ironically alongside images of him strutting along the touchline nursing a cigarette.
Honourable mentions: JPR Williams (Wales), Jason Robinson (England), Percy Montgomery (South Africa)

14. Jonah Lomu (New Zealand)

The New Zealander remains the joint all-time top try scorer at the Rugby World Cup along with Bryan Habana, crossing the whitewash on 15 different occasions across the 1995 and 1999 tournaments. The easiest selection in a greatest ever XV.

Originally of Tongan descent, it was Lomu who made it glamorous to be a big, bruising winger, even though his stature could have easily seen him fill in at centre or somewhere in the pack.

Much like the Juggernaut of the Marvel Universe, there wasn’t much that could stop Lomu once he’d gotten into a stride.

Did you know: In September 2009, Lomu took part in an amateur bodybuilding contest, finishing second in two categories
Honourable mentions: Bryan Habana (South Africa), Doug Howlett (New Zealand), Shane Williams (Wales)

13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland) 

The former Ireland and British and Irish Lions Skipper Brian O’Driscoll was one of the most consistent performers in the world for over a decade.

He hung up his boots in 2014 after accumulating 133 caps for Ireland with a fantastic return of 245 points. In the emerald green, he triumphed in the Six Nations in 2009 (Grand Slam) and 2014 as well as being chosen as Player of the Tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

The Dublin-born is also the highest all-time Irish record try scorer with an incredible 46 scores, and also led his country more times than any other player.

Did you know: O’Driscoll was chosen as Player of the Tournament in the 2006, 2007 and 2009 RBS Six Nations Championships.
Honourable mentions: Jeremy Guscott (England), Will Greenwood (England), Frank Bunce (New Zealand)

12. Tim Horan (Australia) 

Only a handful of players has won the Rugby World Cup Twice and power-packed runner Tim Horan is one of them, triumphing in 1991 and 1999 with Australia.

He made his international debut in 1989 against the All Blacks and would go on to make 80 caps, scoring 30 tries, in an impressive 11-year career.

Did you know: Horan’s father is Mike Horan, the former National Party and Liberal National Party Member of Parliament for the Queensland electorate of Toowoomba South.
Honourable mentions: Phillipe Sella (France), Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand), Brian Lima (Samoa)

11. David Campese (Australia) 

Capped by Australia on more than 100 occasions and scorer of 64 international tries, David Campese was once the world’s top scorer, but now has to settle for the honour of second place.

To summarise, if there was even the slightest bit of daylight between the try-line and his opposite man, Campese was as good as over.

Whether it was by use of his patented “goose-step” or with use of the more archaic barrelling motion, the Wallabies legend was simply a magnet for scoring.

Beginning his international career at just 19 years of age, it was clear early on that Australia had a special talent on their hands, and the early start allowed Campese to repay his selectors massively down the years.

Did you know: Campese was also a renowned rugby sevens player. He made 12 appearances at the Hong Kong Sevens (1983-1990, 1993–94, 97-98), during which he played in three victorious Australian campaigns (’83, ’85 & ’88)

CONTINUES ON PAGE TWO




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Six Nations Rugby | France claim Olympic silver as GB finish fourth at Tokyo 2020

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Les Bleues came out on top when the two teams went head-to-head in the semi-final, securing their place in the gold-medal match with a hard-fought 26-19 triumph.

Great Britain faced Fiji in the bronze-medal match and despite two tries from Meg Jones, they ultimately lost 21-12 to finish the tournament in fourth place.

Meanwhile, France faced the formidable Black Ferns for the gold medal and the pre-tournament favourites lived up to their billing with a 26-12 victory.

Speaking after emulating Great Britain’s fourth-place finish at Rio 2016, Wales winger Jasmine Joyce was disappointed to miss out on a medal but admitted she couldn’t be prouder of what the team achieved.

Jasmine Joyce

“You can probably tell by all our faces we are absolutely gutted,” said Joyce.

“As a squad, we’re Team GB, we are three different nations, and we have only been together for four or five months. Six months ago, none of us had anything – we didn’t have jobs, nothing.

“So to come out here, come fourth and push New Zealand right to the end, beat the USA in the quarter-finals and, unfortunately, lose to Fiji – who are a very good side – I can’t be prouder.

“We’ve definitely put our programme in a better place. We can call ourselves Olympians.”

France had been unbeaten on their march to the semi-final clash with Great Britain, beating Fiji, Brazil, Canada and China to put themselves in prime position for a medal.

Great Britain beat the Russian Olympic Committee and pushed New Zealand all the way in a thrilling 26-21 defeat before wins over Kenya and USA put them in the last four.

In the semi-final showdown, France raced into an early 14-point lead thanks to converted tries from Anne-Cecile Ciofani and Seraphine Okemba.

But Great Britain soon responded as Joyce claimed her sixth try of the tournament and Holly Aitchison added the extras to cut the deficit to seven with just six minutes played.

Coralie Bertrand claimed a third French touchdown before the break but Joyce then sprinted clear for her second try of the match, making it 21-12 at the half-time interval.

Ciofani scored a second after the restart and while Scotland’s Hannah Smith crossed for a try converted by England’s Natasha Hunt, France were able to hold on for victory.

Great Britain found themselves trailing 14-0 again in the bronze-medal match with Fiji and though Jones crossed twice, it was not enough to secure her side a place on the podium.

France then went down 26-12 to the Black Ferns, who avenged their defeat to Australia in the Olympic final five years ago to become champions at Tokyo 2020.

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The rise of Jack Conan to a Test Lion

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The rise of Jack Conan is one of the great stories to emerge from the Lions. Called into the Irish Six Nations squad for the suspended Peter O’Mahony, he subsequently made his first appearance for Ireland since the 2019 RWC. Many had ruled the 29-year-old out, with the emergence of Caelan Doris at Leinster signifying a potential changing of the guard. The future looked bright for Doris for both Leinster and Ireland. Yet, as we all know, injuries in sport offer opportunities. This opportunity Conan took with both hands, as he put in an incredible final performance against England, setting up a try and scoring another. In turn, he booked his place on the plane to South Africa. We all thought it would stop there but now he isn’t just a Lion. He is a Test Lion.

Early Career

Jack Conan like all young Leinster number 8s had the title of ‘the next Jamie Heaslip.’ Playing Irish U20s in 2012 with fellow Lions Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong, and Tadhg Beirne, it was a new generation of young Irish talent. Conan had to remain patient for his Leinster debut mainly because of the competition in the back row as Jamie Heaslip had no thoughts of hanging up the boots just yet. His debut came in February 2014 against the Cardiff Blues with his international debut coming away in the 2014 Six Nations. The early career-defining moment came in January 2015 with a man of the match performance against Ulster. In the game he carried 40 metres, something that would be repeated on the biggest stage in a red jersey.

International Career

As the 2015 Six Nations approached, Conan had caught the eye of Joe Schmidt. The steady rise, however, didn’t all go to plan. Conan didn’t play in that Six Nations and despite making his debut in a 2015 RWC warm-up game against Scotland he failed to make the World Cup squad. Injuries, the emergence of new talent, and a lack of form meant Conan’s Irish dream was fading away.

Although a golden opportunity arose due to the 2017 Lions Tour. The likes of CJ Stander and co were away on Lions duty providing space in the national side for the 2017 Ireland Tour to USA and Japan. A few impressive outings once again showed Jack Conan is a man who takes every opportunity that comes his way. When the 2019 RWC came round, he made sure this time he was on the plane. This time he played a key role in the Ireland back row, far from being someone who was in Japan to make up the numbers. As the rise of Jack Conan continued.

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British and Irish Lions

For people who haven’t followed Jack Conan’s career, his recent performances for the Lions may have come as a surprise. For those who know him, however, they have been merely a given. Conan is a skilful number 8 who uses his footwork to gain extra post-contact metres, as well as being a fast and elusive player, exactly what was required to challenge South Africa in the wider channels. Completely different to what Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell went for with CJ Stander at number 8 (Who is very direct!). Conan stuck to his values as a player and didn’t change his unique style of play. The rise of Jack Conan, therefore, did stall but it certainly didn’t stop.

Despite only earning 17 caps for Ireland, he is now set for a second Lions Test cap and was one of the standout performers in the first Test. On tour, he has made 59 carries, 16 more than the next best (Duhan van der Merwe with 43). He also has made the most post-contact metres of any forward with 136. In the first Test, he made 48 metres from 12 carries. It is also the most metres made by a Lion forward in a Test since 2009. Guess who had that record? Jamie Heaslip. Sport can be funny sometimes.

A famous boxing analogy is that styles make fights. For rugby it is the same. The style required to beat the Springbok is a number 8 who isn’t just a direct bruiser. Conan has found his style hasn’t suited Ireland in the past yet it is the style vital in order for success on the 2021 Lions Tour. Although he might not go down as an Irish legend, his Lions legacy will certainly live on.

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