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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

“Special talent that will win 50 caps” – Sir Clive Woodward’s five biggest underachievers

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Sir Clive Woodward ruled the roost at Twickenham for seven years between 1997 and 2004, forever etching his name into the history books when England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

While his tenure will always be remembered fondly as the time that the men in white became the most dominant club in world, won countless Six Nations trophies and had some of the best players in the world, Woodward also called up some duds during his time.

Here are the five biggest underachievers from the Woodward era as the players failed to match the significant hype that was bestowed upon them.

#1. Olly Barkley

  • Caps: 23
  • Position: Fly-half, Centre

The wonderkid won 23 caps for England between 2001 and 2008, and such was his early reputation that he Woodward gave him his England debut before his club bow with Bath. A graceful left-footer able to play at fly-half or inside-centre, Barkley should have been a mainstay in the England midfield after the retirement of Will Greenwood.

The strange thing about Barkley is that it is hard to say where it all went wrong. Although he was never blessed with great pace, the playmaker kicked well from the tee and out of hand, was a fine distributor and hardly a weak player in defence. He is possibly the biggest mystery of English rugby from the 2000s.

After retiring, he revealed that his heart wasn’t always in rugby as he always dreamed of playing football.

CONTINUES ON PAGE TWO




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The other future Wales internationals in Christ Tshiunza’s university team as Welsh scrum-half’s son branded ‘special’

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Christ Tshiunza may have been called into the Wales squad via Exeter University but he isn’t the only Welsh second row in the west of England with a big future.

So believes the university’s head of rugby Keith Fleming, a man who has brought through the likes of Henry Slade, Sam Skinner and Jack Maunder, all of whom have gone on to play international rugby at senior level.

Tshiunza has made it into Wayne Pivac’s Wales squad at the age of just 19.

Alongside him in the second row when Exeter University beat Cardiff University 38-7 on Wednesday – a game which took place an hour after Pivac’s squad unveiling – was Dafydd Jenkins.

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He is the 18-year-old son of former Neath and Swansea No. 8 Hywel Jenkins.

Jenkins senior once featured for Wales in an uncapped match against the USA, and Jenkins junior – a try scorer against Cardiff – is also destined to go far in the game, according to Fleming.

“Dafydd has a lot going for him,” Fleming told WalesOnline.

“Not only is he a capable lineout operator, he also has a good rugby brain and he’s building a harder edge into his game.

“He’s another lighthouse.



Dafydd Jenkins in action for Wales in the U20s Six Nations

“We played him and Chris Tshiunza in the second row against Cardiff University in the week and to have two lads who are 6ft 7in or thereabouts packing down alongside each other gave us quite an engine room.

“We’re all delighted for Chris to make the Wales squad.

“I’d expect Dafydd to go all the way, as well. He’s a very talented boy.”

Jenkins featured in the Ospreys’ academy before heading for the west of England. Like Tshiunza and fellow Wales U20s players Oli Burrows and Dan John, he is on the books of Exeter Chiefs as well as playing for the university.

At 6ft 7in and 17st 11lb, Jenkins packs a physical presence but he is also athletic and good around the field. During the U20s Six Nations in the summer, he averaged close on 12 tackles a game and also showed an appetite for turnovers.

That said, Fleming and his staff are having to encourage the likes of Tshiunza and Jenkins to adjust their tackle techniques to avoid falling foul of the laws.

“It’s becoming tougher and tougher for the big guys,” said Fleming.

“With the tackle laws nowadays, there’s a danger of taller players being penalised for going high, so we are encouraging them to chop tackle.

“We are trying to coach the big fellas to go really low when bringing opponents down.”

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Exeter University’s game with their Cardiff counterparts was their first home BUCS Super Rugby match since February 2020. It was also Tshiunza’s debut in the competition.

Wales see the Whitchurch High School product as a player with immense potential and Fleming is of the same mind.

“He gets better and better every time he goes on the park,” the Devonian star-maker said.

“I tell him to go out there and take every opportunity with both hands.

“He’s already featured for the Chiefs and it was great to see him playing for the university in the week. Getting minutes under his belt will be a big help.

“Chris is a big, physical lad who will give every team he plays for go-forward as his confidence grows.

“He is good in the air and technically very good lineout-wise.

“What’s his best position? The way the game is going, it’s good that he can play at lock and at blindside.

“He’s equally at home in either position.

“I think he’s a hybrid player, though he quite likes playing six, to be honest.

“What I particularly like about him is he’s very coachable. He’s a young guy who takes on board lessons.”

Oli Burrows, meanwhile, is a hooker who doesn’t miss many tackles and has an accurate throwing arm, according to Fleming. At 6ft 2in and 17st 3lb, the Neath product is also a powerful specimen.

But perhaps Fleming lights up most when discussing the fourth Welsh musketeer in the university set-up, 20-year-old Dan John.

The son of former Wales scrum-half Paul John, the back-three man is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him player, with a background in athletics. He attended Millfield School, alma mater of Gareth Edwards, and also played football for Cardiff City’s academy.

He has played wing, outside centre and full-back in rugby and is a player to watch out for.

“Dan is a special talent,” Fleming said.

“He’s quick but he’s also very deft with what I call ghost runs.

“You see him running into a defensive line and you think nothing much is going to happen, but then, lo and behold, he comes out the other side.



Dan John in action for Wales U19s

“He has great feet and he beats people with his acceleration.

“What’s nice about him is that not only is he super-talented, he’s a great kid, too.”

All appear in safe hands with Fleming.

He presides over a cosmopolitan rugby set-up with players from the likes of England, Scotland and Italy but the Welsh contingent are more than holding their own.

“We have a good crop of players,” Fleming added.

“The pandemic has deprived a lot of them of rugby over the past 18 months but we’re up and running again now and, hopefully, the boys will show what they can do.”



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Pivac looking to keep a lid on Wales’ great expectations

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After a forgettable summer series that was signed off with a turgid performance and defeat against Argentina, his get-out-of-jail-free card was 12 members of his first team out in South Africa with the British & Irish Lions. It means he will approach this demanding autumn series marginally in credit and, listening to him speak at a hastily-arranged press conference this week, his relaxed demeanour suggested that, barring a calamitous run of results, he will be in situ to lead Wales to France 2023.

His predecessor repeatedly filled his autumn by facing the toughest sides on the planet, arguing that it was necessary as a litmus test to where his squad stood, and year after year, the results were hardly awe-inspiring. Gatland chalked up just five autumn victories in his 22 fixtures against New Zealand, Australia and a horribly out-of-sorts South Africa under Allister Coetzee. The bar, then, has been set at a fairly modest height in the expectation of his paymasters, you would think.

As ever in Welsh rugby, the path to contentment is far from smooth. After a tumultuous pandemic where the WRU wrestled itself from the financial abyss, its regions have been left feeling more impoverished and unloved than ever. A lifeline was thrown with a £20million NatWest loan, but it has to be paid back over five years with interest. ‘Mate’s rates’ were not an option and the regions have been forced to trim squads and cut their cloth accordingly.

We need the funding. Without it, it will be a lot tougher for the clubs and the Union to proceed in the way we’d like to.

Wayne Pivac

While the pull of the Welsh jersey has been enough to lure Rhys Priestland, Tomas Francis, Thomas Young and WillGriff John to Wales, the regions suffer in squad depth compared to their friends over the Irish Sea, who can somehow find the financial backing to bring the likes of World Cup winners RG Snyman and Damian de Allende to the provinces. Indeed, when Duane Vermeulen was announced as Ulster’s new signing, the news was met with barely concealed antipathy in certain quarters. The last world class star to ply his trade in Wales was probably Justin Marshall, back in 2007.

The losses by the Ospreys to the Sharks and the Blues to the Bulls were a reality check last weekend, but worse was to come with the 43-13 drubbing handed out to the Scarlets, featuring six of the Wales squad members, by a weakened Munster and put into sharp focus the challenge ahead for Pivac, with the All Blacks just 15 days away.

How can he imbue the belief in his squad to seriously topple the battle-hardened Rugby Championship winners? It is a mental straitjacket from which even David Blaine may struggle to extricate himself.

Wales Tshiunza Exeter
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

Pivac is further hampered by a sizeable injury list that has deprived him of Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, George North and Leigh Halfpenny from the front line, handy squad players Leon Brown, James Botham and, in all likelihood, Michael Collins, who would surely have taken the ‘Hadleigh Parkes’ route had he not been injured in his second regional game.

First up, against New Zealand, you can add to that list Taulupe Faletau, Louis Rees-Zammit and Dan Biggar, who are prevented from playing because the fixture is outside the agreed Test window. The reason for the game? Simple. To balance the books and Pivac was not hiding from the reason the sell-out game had to be played: “We need the funding. Without it, it will be a lot tougher for the clubs and the Union to proceed in the way we’d like to.”

With this uncertainty as a backdrop, it would take a brave soul to back Wales to break the pattern of losses to the All Blacks that now stretches to 68 years.

Attitudinally, he likes to run into people. He likes to carry hard and knock people over… he brings something that nobody else in the country probably has in terms of his height and athleticism.

Wayne Pivac on Christ Tshiunza

So to those he did select. The headline pick was Christ Tshiunza, a large-limbed 19-year-old from Whitchurch High School. Now at Exeter Chiefs, with barely an hour’s top-tier rugby behind him, the 6ft 6in, 17st 7lb back-five player Pivac says is being looked at as a blindside to compete with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Jamie Ritchie and Tadhg Beirne, who would all have to mind their heads walking through a regulation doorway.

More encouragement was given by his club coach, Rob Baxter, who said: “Attitudinally, he likes to run into people. He likes to carry hard and knock people over.” So far, so promising, but Tshiunza is being viewed more as a project for France 2023 than the here and now, despite Pivac saying that “he brings something that nobody else in the country probably has in terms of his height and athleticism”.

A welcome flex in the contentious 60-cap rule has also been shown by the inclusion of Thomas Young, who it was confirmed is Cardiff-bound in the summer. Consistently one of the Gallagher Premiership’s most accomplished opensides, a start against the All Blacks is not out of the question. Young’s ball-carrying and speed across the turf has seen him preferred to Tommy Reffell in a clear sign that youngster needs to increase his ballast with the ball in hand and is perhaps being hampered by the style of game being played at domestic level. Jac Morgan is another who knows he has to add carrying to a top-drawer defensive game.

Gareth Anscombe
A long-term injury has kept Gareth Anscombe out of a Wales shirt since 2019

One player whose regional form has been noted is Taine Basham, who Pivac commented adds “X-factor to the No7 jersey and is developing the dark arts of the breakdown”. He added: “We’ve invested time in him because we believe he has the power output, the speed and skillset to do well.”

Pulling at the heart strings were the inclusions of Ellis Jenkins and Gareth Anscombe. Both players have spent more than two years out of the game through injury, and while not yet operating at a full lick, their addition is a show of faith in their obvious talents.

While there was elation for some, there was bitter disappointment for a clutch of players. Heading that list was Jonah Holmes, who has been consistently excellent for the Dragons over the past year, scoring 13 tries in 20 appearances. He was overlooked for Johnny McNicholl, whom Pivac described as the “form” player. While a classy operator in attack, McNicholl knows he will have to improve his defence at the top level after being exposed in the 2020 Six Nations. In a press conference full of interesting tid-bits, Pivac also alluded that another back-three contender, Hallam Amos, had been excluded because his medical studies were coming to a head – and within 24 hours, it was announced he would be retiring from the game at 27 to swap a red jersey for a white coat, after 10 years as a professional. Pob lwc to Hallam.

We want to roll up our sleeves, Monday to Saturday, prepare the team how we always have and put on a performance that we’re proud of.

Wayne Pivac

Another player who had been heavily trailed for his classy cameos in the first two URC games was Scott Williams – who left the field with an eye injury against Munster – but with Johnny Williams’ return to fitness he was omitted. Yet the 58-cap centre will take heart from knowing he was very much in the conversation for selection and with one injury in midfield, his opportunity may still come. Along with Anscombe and Jenkins, if he proves his fitness there is no reason why cannot resurrect his Welsh career.

When asked about his aims for the series, the rhetoric being espoused was that this batch of games is an opportunity for fringe players to lay down a marker for inclusion in the squad get-togethers leading to France. Deprived of so many players who carried him to a Six Nations title, expectations are being dialled down publicly. “We want to roll up our sleeves, Monday to Saturday, prepare the team how we always have and put on a performance that we’re proud of,” said Pivac.

Jonah Holmes has scored 13 tries in his 20 appearances for the Dragons and can consider himself unlucky to be ommitted

The Aucklander is gnarled enough to know he will be judged on his results, but he has laid enough caveats that any heavy losses can be explained away and that success will be measured on how his squad develops against the best in the world. Some will wither, while some may find themselves thrust into the spotlight in others’ absence. Squad depth is a concern in certain positions, Pivac accedes, but a bigger issue remains as to who will fill the leadership berth when soon-to-be 35-year-old Ken Owens and 36-year-old Alun Wyn Jones jack it in. The signs are that they maybe nursed to 2023, which is a concern.

One factor that should help buoy Pivac is the return of crowds and Welsh support is renowned for lifting its players from Clark Kents for their regions to Supermen for their country, as Donnacha O’Callaghan so colourfully described it. Several coaches have quipped that the fans are worth 10 points to the home team – and Wales will be hoping for a similar lift in the coming weeks.

The die is cast for an intriguing campaign.



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